National Football League
Let's all learn from Cooper's gaffe
National Football League

Let's all learn from Cooper's gaffe

Published Aug. 1, 2013 1:00 a.m. ET

We, the media, will blow this Riley Cooper teachable moment. It’s what we do when it comes to race. We look for good guys and bad guys, villains and heroes. We choose the politically correct path rather than the road to understanding.

Riley Cooper, a receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, did and said something very, very stupid and disgusting. Drunk and partying in a sea of whiteness, Cooper apparently lashed out at a black security guard and threatened to "fight every n****r here".

A cellphone camera captured Cooper’s ignorance. It took a month, but the blogosphere unearthed the video and broadcast it to the world. The Eagles reacted responsibly, fining Cooper and forcing him to confront his mistake publicly with the media and privately with his teammates.

Watch what he said. Warning: Language is universally considered to be offensive . . .


I don’t expect the media to respond as responsibly. Too many of us will think the solution is for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Riley Cooper. Too many of us will think Riley Cooper in no way reflects on all of us.

Well, I’ve been young, drunk, filled with athletic testosterone and partying in a sea of blackness. I’m glad there were no cellphone cameras then. I’ve been middle-aged, drunk, filled with non-athletic cholesterol and partying in a sea of blackness. I’m glad no one recorded the foolish thoughts I’ve uttered when I assumed no one around me would be offended.

Maybe most of the people working in the media are perfect, immune to impure, biased thoughts or actions. I’m not. And no one I know is. What happens with age and maturity is we get better at combatting our biases and keeping them from spilling out of our mouths. When we intellectually evolve, we get better at seeing the stupidity of our biases and not letting them dictate our actions.

I’m extremely distrustful of anyone who claims they’re free of biases. They’re dishonest or delusional.

For the most part, Riley Cooper handled his apology flawlessly. He forthrightly expressed the proper remorse and humbly answered every question.

“This is the lowest of lows,” Cooper said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry.”

There’s no room for Cooper to be totally honest. The media — social and legitimate — won’t allow Cooper to be transparent. What was captured on tape is a reflection of what type of person Cooper is.

He’s flawed. He’s a product of America’s conflicted melting pot. That is not a knock on America. We have racial issues because we’re the most diverse nation on the planet. We have trouble working through those issues because dishonesty and simple-mindedness are rewarded.

Like all of us, Riley Cooper is biased. He needs to admit that to himself so he can adequately combat his biases and be a force for positive change.

I used to be proudly homophobic. I used the F-word regularly. In 1998, while sitting in the New England Patriots press box, I got in a back-and-forth exchange with Pats fans and cracked a “joke” that ended with me asking, “Drew Bledsoe gay?”

The ensuing controversy started the process of me recognizing and realizing the utter ignorance of my homophobia. I used to be offended when people analogized the struggle for gay equality with black people’s struggle for equality. I now get it and understand their struggle benefits our struggle and the overall fight for fairness.

I hope Cooper is allowed to evolve. I hope we don’t demonize him to the point that he becomes John Rocker II and more entrenched in bigotry. I hope Cooper confronts who he is. He didn’t threaten to fight every n****r because there’s no bigotry in his heart and mind. He did it because he has failed to deal with who he really is.

He’s in the same denial most of us are in. I’m talking about all of us — black, white, brown and yellow.

I want to make one other point before I finish. Cooper’s transgression isn’t much of a locker-room issue for the Eagles. There are bigots of every color on sports teams. The beauty of sports is that teams force participants to put aside their biases and work together. Working together is different from liking or respecting each other.

Cooper isn’t a coach or executive with the power to hire and fire people based on his racial biases. Cooper is a player. He’s a 25-year-old kid with immature thoughts. His teammates will move on as long as he plays at a high level.

Racial slurs fly on football fields somewhat regularly. It’s a violent game that brings out the worst in people. My junior season at Ball State, I played against a white Northern Illinois defensive tackle who N-bombed me most of the afternoon. I kept shouting at his mostly black defensive teammates about why they would tolerate such a flaming idiot. The next year, the same guy was the most courteous opponent I played against all season.

Let’s help Cooper evolve and mature. We might be surprised by the results.


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