The knee-jerk reaction: Philadelphia should have immediately cut Riley Cooper on Wednesday once the Eagles wide receiver’s racist tirade at a country music concert went viral.
The reality: Doing so wasn’t that simple from a financial standpoint.
If the Eagles had released him, Cooper could have filed a grievance against the franchise for his 2013 base salary of $630,000 through the NFL Players Association.
Yes, the same union that has a black executive director (DeMaurice Smith) and president (Domonique Foxworth) would be fighting on Cooper’s behalf if he asked for representation.
Cooper was disgraced Wednesday when Internet video surfaced of him telling a black security guard that he would "fight every (n-word) here" while attending a Kenny Chesney concert in Philadelphia in June.
Instead of cutting him, the Eagles fined Cooper an undisclosed amount and issued a statement condemning his behavior. Cooper quickly issued an apology after the video surfaced. He expressed the same sentiment to teammates during a Wednesday night meeting.
Under terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and its players, the Eagles could have released Cooper under the premise of "conduct detrimental to the team." Such a move would have relieved Philadelphia of having to pay Cooper his $630,000 salary – not to mention satisfy those who believed such behavior was unforgivable.
Cooper signed a four-year, $1.97 million contract as a 2010 fifth-round draft choice. Releasing him would have saved the Eagles roughly $587,000 under the salary cap with the prorated amount of Cooper’s $171,500 signing bonus ($42,875) becoming "dead money."
The NFLPA, though, could have filed a grievance upon Cooper’s request. The union would have claimed that releasing Cooper was a "severe and unprecedented" step that violated his rights.
On the union’s website, the NFLPA trumpets itself as "successful in considerably more than half of the cases" in which grievances are filed. NFLPA executive George Atallah said the union in no way condones Cooper’s actions but it is the NFLPA’s duty to defend player rights.
"It would be a much different scenario if Riley does something like this on the field or in the locker room or workplace," Atallah told FOX Sports during a Thursday morning telephone interview. "The fact that he did not and it was captured on somebody else’s camera and he was not doing this on purpose to broadcast make any punishment beyond a fine ‘severe and unprecedented.’"
It does appear the grievance process won’t be necessary as the Eagles and Cooper try to put the ugliness behind them.
Cooper has received public support from some of his Eagles teammates, including quarterback Michael Vick. Forgiveness from others, though, won’t come easily. Vick’s brother Marcus expressed his outrage on Twitter, posting that he would pay a $1,000 bounty to the "first Free Safety or Strong safety that light his a** up!" Michael Vick quickly distanced himself from those comments and the posting was deleted.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told ESPN Radio on Thursday morning that Cooper would participate in sensitivity training.
"In meeting with Riley yesterday, we decided together that his next step will be to seek outside assistance to help him fully understand the impact of his words and actions," the team said in a statement Thursday. "He needs to reflect. As an organization, we will provide the resources he needs to do so."
Goodell also said the NFL wouldn’t take disciplinary action against Cooper because the Eagles already had done so. Atallah pointed out that such a measure would be prohibited under the CBA anyway because the league cannot "double-punish" after a team takes action.
The Eagles released a statement Thursday afternoon that the franchise decided Cooper’s "next step will be to seek outside assistance to help him fully understand the impact of his words and actions. He needs to reflect. As an organization, we will provide the resources he needs to do so.
Eagles brass does have a less altruistic reason to forgive Cooper as well. His low base salary makes Cooper an inexpensive option to replace 2012 Eagles receiving leader Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament during last Saturday’s training camp practice. Cooper caught a career-high 23 passes for 248 yards and three touchdowns last season while appearing in 11 games with five starts.
Smith issued a statement denouncing Cooper’s behavior at the concert.
"Racism, regardless of its form or its context, has no place in sport or society," Smith said. "The language used was wrong and does not reflect our player community. I know he is sorry for what he said, and I am glad he is taking responsibility for his actions."