By Blake Baxter (@bbax2)
Okay, let’s get a few things straight, starting with the facts. A month ago Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper attended a Kenny Chesney concert, got into a disagreement with an African-American security guard and emphatically proclaimed that he would “fight every nigger in here”. The incident was, of course caught on tape by a cell phone, unbeknownst to the drunken, enraged NFL player. This past week the video went viral and set the Internet ablaze.
Cooper was ripped apart by both social media and the traditional media. The first reaction was outrage, followed quickly by demands for how the Eagles and/or the NFL should deal with the situation. Most agreed that a heavy fine was the appropriate response, while a portion demanded a suspension. There were others that asserted the Eagles should release Cooper without question.
After the story went public, the Eagles wasted no time to act, immediately fining Cooper an undisclosed, but presumably considerable sum of money. The fining was followed by an apology by a shell-shocked Cooper. In his apology, Cooper appeared sincere when he said that he was embarrassed for his actions, that he had let everyone down, that his parents raised him better than that and that the incident was an aberration. By the end of the week, he had been excused from practices and entered into racial sensitivity training.
It has been several days since the news broke and there has already been a reaction to the reaction to this debacle. Deadspin accumulated a litany of sad, thinly veiled racist remarks and some not so thinly veiled racist remarks. This is America. What happened to Freedom of Speech? This isn’t that big of a deal, anyway. They were just words.
What Cooper said was a lot of things. It was ignorant, hateful, offensive, irresponsible, embarrassing and unacceptable. That one sentence will haunt him for the rest of his life. He’s been facing the repercussions all week long and will face much more when he gets back to football. Not only will Cooper have to deal with mending relationships with teammates whom feel hurt and betrayed by his actions, but he will also have to face angry and vengeful opponents for the whole season and most likely the rest of his career. But let’s make one thing clear: Riley Cooper is not Aaron Hernandez. Aaron Hernandez is an alleged murderer and was let go by the Patriots because it would be ludicrous to have his name associated with theirs; because having his name on the roster would be more of a distraction than it was worth.
Some are treating Riley Cooper as if he were guilty of murder. Riley Cooper used a racial slur. As disgusting and incendiary as it was, he didn’t break a law. He made a remark during the offseason, without taking into account the possibility of someone recording his actions and now he is paying the consequences. We, as a society, can ostracize and ridicule him for his poor choice, if we so choose. Individually, we are entitled to our opinions on the matter. But what we shouldn’t do is speak out of ignorance and self-righteousness. There is a difference between passionately believing that the Eagles should release Cooper for the incident and being outraged if the Eagles choose to retain him.
The decision is up to the team. If Cooper seems repentant (and he did in his public apology) and he can make amends with his teammates and the organization, then the Eagles could choose to keep him on the team. It will be an uphill battle, but it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. The incident alone will not decide his fate with the team; it will be the fallout from the incident. Riley Cooper does not deserve to be treated like a criminal. But, even so, the shockwaves from this incident will be felt for a long time.
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College Fix, The Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday.