He thought he was safe, using that word at a Kenny Chesney concert, which is probably like yelling "fire" in an empty theater. Seriously, who else was outraged and hurt to the point of anger, other than the black security guard it was directed toward?
That was one of several things we can take from the Riley Cooper incident, where a white Eagles receiver dropped a bomb in a lake -- an N-bomb if you will -- and the ripples spread quick and far. Not only was his bitter and racist outburst something to behold when video of it was leaked, so was the reaction both inside and outside the Eagles locker room. It turned into a media-driven carnival here in the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, where everyone seems more racially hypersensitive and confused than normal. So let's try to make some sense of it all:
FEELING SORRY, OR JUST LOOKING SORRY?
Cooper expressed regret and remorse and set a speed record for an apology -- if he's that fast on the field then Michael Vick should aim deep this season -- but let's be real here. He was sorry it went viral. He was sorry he was busted. He was sorry he didn't say this before smart phones and social media. Like, back in the 1950s, where that word would've fit with the times. Which leads us to …
TO THOSE I OFFENDED.
It was interesting, but not too surprising, how nobody at that concert jumped Cooper and gave him a beatdown. Let's suppose Cooper screamed how he would "beat every N-word here" at a Rick Ross concert. He would've been on IR before the next note was played. The point here is we, as a society, are selective in our outrage. If a slur is mentioned and it's not directed at us, well, maybe it may cause a bit of discomfort and someone will wrinkle a nose, but that's about the extent of it, for the most part. Until everyone -- whites, blacks, Asians, whomever -- is equally appalled at something that is offensive to one group, there will always be racism and ignorance and bigotry. There will always be a Riley Cooper, thinking he can get away with yelling in an empty theater.
It was also hilarious how the media quickly went to his black teammates for a response. What about his white teammates? Do they count? How did they feel? Why weren't they polled? Um, maybe in hindsight, that would've been uncomfortable, because we all live in …
GLASS HOUSES CRACK EASILY.
Just a wild, totally off the wall, crazy and insane hunch, but here goes: Cooper probably isn't the only white Eagles player to use the N-word in his life. Matter of fact, I'll spread my suspicion to the Eagles front office, the NFL and pretty much throughout American society.
Maybe it only happened once. Maybe it was during a time of ignorance, a youthful indiscretion, a drunken episode (always blame it on the alcohol), a joke shared among friends, or someone recycled an old Richard Pryor skit. Whatever. But I'm willing to bet that no one is pure and innocent when it comes to offending someone of another race or culture. And I don't limit that to whites, either. You think blacks have never mocked another culture? When it comes to slamming someone else, we're all guilty to a small or large degree. Or maybe you're the one whose dictionary has been forever PC?
That's why Roger Goodell could not, in good conscience, pound Cooper with a commissioner's iron fist. The only difference between Cooper and everyone else is a video camera. Come to think of it, let's touch on ...
THE HYPOCRISY OF IT ALL.
Cooper used the N-word and some of his teammates said it would be tough to look at him the same way ever again. Which is fine and understandable. But tell me something:
Do any of them own dogs? Well, how can they ever stand the sight of Vick without vomiting?
We do know every player has a mother and most probably have a sister or wife or daughter. Then why haven't the players gone nuclear on LeSean McCoy, who allegedly threw a woman off a bus in the middle of nowhere last year? And suppose someone is charged with striking a woman, unofficially the second-most common "crime" committed by athletes, after alcohol abuse. Will his teammates call him out, turn their backs and complain to management? Actually, there has never been a documented case of an athlete being forced to collapse into a puddle of apologetic tears by his teammates for hitting a woman. Which is more unacceptable than using a slur, because someone was physically harmed.
Yes, on this and a few other forms of behavior that involve a victim to some degree, the sound of crickets in the locker room is deafening.
TO FORGIVE IS … DIVINE?
This is the central, critical and tricky part of the Cooper incident. Where do the Eagles go from here? The NFL? Philadelphia fans?
It's easy to say the Eagles should forgive and move on. Well, sure. Black folks have been forgiving whites for 200 years, so what's another day? No problem, right?
Well, yeah. In a sense.
Honestly, if I ran the team, Cooper would be an ex-Eagle. Not because I think he was a threat to the organization; he doesn't hire or fire or dictate company policy, so in effect he's harmless. Not because he embarrassed the team; he embarrassed himself. Not because he's a second-stringer, pushed into a starter's role because of injury, and therefore somewhat sacrificial. And not because I don't believe in second chances, depending on the crime, that is. (Take Aaron Hernandez. Please.)
No, he'd be gone because he's an outcast in the locker room, no matter what kind of forgiving face his teammates are putting forth right now, partially to ease public perception about team harmony.
Several years ago Kerry Collins, after a few too many cold ones, called one of his black receivers an N-word in jest (Collins used an "a" instead of the dreaded "er" if that makes a difference. It did not, in this case). It was a minor miracle that Collins was healthy enough to play the next game. But he was never respected again, as a man and leader, by the black players on the Panthers. And when he joined the Giants, he had to explain himself to Michael Strahan and others, who had some straightforward, serious questions about someone who was about to become a team leader. And again, what Collins said was in jest. Just trying to be one of the guys.
Cooper was not joking, not happy, and not trying to fit in. According to one report, Cooper was in an egotistical rage because he didn't have a backstage pass at the concert -- "do you know who I am" -- and went full-blast on a security guard who happened to look different than him.
"I will fight every N-word here" does not sound like he's using that word as a term of endearment, which is how some people -- blacks, mainly -- justify their happy relationship with it.
What Cooper did, and the context he used, was repugnant. It was ugly. And it was directed at a person who did nothing to "earn" it, except go about his job.
Riley Cooper has been punished already. He's been publicly shamed, fined by the Eagles and forced to grovel to his teammates. And because of this, he has been forgiven, as he should.
But do you think his teammates will look his way ever again and suddenly forget? And would you understand if they didn't?