COMMENTARY: NFL's Riley Cooper Should Face Stiffer Penalty
Charles E. Sutton | 8/2/2013, 2:40 p.m.
For Riley Cooper and the Philadelphia Eagles, things will go from bad to worse. It's just a matter of time.
The team made sure of that with the soft penalty levied against Cooper for spewing the N-word in a video that went viral Wednesday afternoon. After meeting with head coach Chip Kelly, general manager Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie — all of whom are white men — Cooper only received a fine. On Friday afternoon, Cooper was excused from team activities for team-issued counseling. The Eagles will keep Cooper on the active roster during his absence.
"The best thing for me, and the team, is to step away for a period of time," Cooper said in response to being excused from team activities.
A suspension would have been far more appropriate. Waiving Cooper from the squad would have been reasonable. The message would have been crystal clear, that racism is not and will not be tolerated by the Eagles or the NFL. Instead, the message is that racism may cost you a few dollars or a period of time away from the team. That's just not strong enough, and many angry fans and media who are about to pounce on this team feel the same way.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will surely take a look at this situation. Goodell has developed a reputation for suspending anyone who embarrasses the league. In this case, there isn't much doubt that Cooper did just that.
It would mean much more to NFL fans if a harsher penalty came from the Eagles. Letting Goodell handle their dirty work would make the franchise look softer on the issue than it already does.
In the video, recorded at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field in June, Cooper has a beer in his hand. He is irritated about something but not out of control. Eagles teammate Jason Kelce can be seen, apparently attempting to calm down Cooper. Then Cooper says it.
"I will fight every n----r here, bro," Cooper says.
He is looking directly into the cell phone or camera that is recording him. The word spews from his mouth with startling ease and familiarity. I'm sorry, but such a word doesn't just slip out.
"I got into a confrontation with one of the security guards [who was African-American]," Cooper said. "I'm not going to get into what happened, but I said something that was absolutely disgusting and terrible. I don't use that. I was raised better than that."
However, the 25-year-old receiver also indicated he was by himself when the incident occurred, even though Kelce is clearly visible on the video. I understand that Cooper is trying to protect his teammates, but at a time like this, honesty is more important. If he's being dishonest about Kelce's presence, how can we trust anything else he says?
Cooper didn't harm anyone physically. He didn't torture or abuse dogs like Michael Vick, nor is he being investigated for murder like Aaron Hernandez. What he did was create a nasty and unacceptable circumstance on a team that is mostly African-American, in a league that is largely African-American. He did so by saying the ugliest word possible, publicly, with a video device in front of him.
The Eagles fined Cooper, made him hold a humbling press conference, and then excused him from team activities. They seem to think that will suffice. But, it won't. And that will become very clear soon enough.