Wide receiver Riley Cooper returned to the Philadelphia Eagles Tuesday after a four-day excused absence to undergo sensitivity training after he was caught on film yelling a racial slur before a Kenny Chesney concert.
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Cooper, in his fourth year out of the University of Florida, seemed remorseful during an eight-minute press conference with the media after the Eagles and New England Patriots began what will be a three-day practice routine before Friday night’s preseason opener.
”It’s great to be back doing what I love to do, play football,” Cooper said. ”I realize being in the NFL you have responsibility to behave on and off the field. I realize that.”
”I realize how many people I hurt, how many families I hurt, how many kids I hurt. It’s going to be tough. I’m going to live with this every day the rest of my life. It’s one of those things you can’t let affect your play on the field.”
Video of Cooper’s racial slur surfaced Wednesday. He was immediately fined an undisclosed amount by the team, but was not suspended. Ironically, two days earlier he was promoted to the starting lineup after Jeremy Maclin suffered a season-ending injury.
Last Friday, Eagles coach Chip Kelly announced that Cooper was given time off to seek counseling. Kelly did not put a timetable on his return. Four days later, he was back at practice and caught two touchdown passes against the Patriots’ defense.
”My concern wasn’t how he practiced,” Kelly said after practice. ”It’s just him with the team itself and to get the chance to make sure he got to talk to every single guy so that they understood how we felt, what he did, and understand that he’s truly sorry for what he did.”
Cooper said he talked to every one of his teammates, face to face, and apologized.
”I told them ‘I don’t want you to forgive me. That puts the burden on you. I want it all on me.’ I apologized,” he said. ”They could tell it was from the heart. They know I’m not that kind of person. It feels good to have the support of the guys.”
After one of his touchdown passes, he got a chest bump from teammate and fellow wide receiver Jason Avant, who is an African-American, and high fives from several other teammates.
”I took a few days,” he said. ”It’s been a tough, tough road. I talked to Chip. He asked me if I’m ready to come back. I told him I was. I wanted to get back on the field and get back out here with my guys.”
Kelly emphasized that since the leave was an excused absence and not a suspension, Cooper was able to return once he felt he was ready.
”I deferred to who he went to go visit with,” Kelly said. ”Again, it wasn’t like he was suspended and he had to go through a set of things to come back. We just excused him, because everybody that met with him — and Riley himself — felt that he needed to go talk to someone.”
Kelly felt that going forward the team is in a good position with Cooper
”We’ve got a pretty good pulse on where we are right now,” he said. ”Our players have been fantastic with us in terms of feedback, so it’s really certainly a situation that, as I said, isn’t something that we just kind of put in the back seat and get moving forward. We’ll make sure we keep our eyes and ears open and continue to monitor the situation.”
That includes owner Jeffrey Lurie, who issued the following statement, Tuesday.
”I want to make this clear; the words Riley Cooper used were totally unacceptable. His words may have been directed at one person but they hurt everyone,” Lurie wrote. ”Riley has apologized to the team and community and has made a personal commitment to work hard to try and gain their trust and earn his position on the team.”