The Riley Cooper controversy one year later and the fan connection to Ray Rice


Around this time every year the month prior to the kickoff of football season, there seems to be at least one controversial story in the NFL that serves as a bridge to the preseason and regular season.

Philadelphia was the focal point for that story last season.

We are approximately a year to the day where it was revealed that Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver Riley Cooper was caught on video at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field (of all places) bellowing that he’d fight “every (n-word)” that was there.

The report came out around this time last year, but the video and concert took place back in June of 2013.

At that time, it seemed as if Cooper was beginning his eventual blacklisting from a league—the NFL—that is seventy percent African American. It also appeared that he would be facing backlash from a city in Philadelphia with one of the biggest black populaces in the United States and the largest city with a black mayor.

Instead, once the season began, it appeared as if everyone forgot about Cooper’s comments and all was healed once he began catching passes again. What also helped is that the Eagles went on a great run in 2013 en route to them winning the NFC East and nearly winning their Wild Card playoff game against the New Orleans Saints.

Cooper was a huge part of Philadelphia’s huge run last year as he put up 47 receptions, 835 yards, and eight touchdowns—all career highs. That also netted him a five-year contract with the Eagles worth $25 million that will keep him in Philly green through 2018.

Even though all indications seem to be that the video is either old news or people are acting as if the video never surfaced into the light of day, Cooper did say that he is still embarrassed by what happened.

He did apologize initially after the fact (whether it was in response to what he said or the fact that the video became tabloid news is still up for debate), but he did reiterate his lack of pleasure with what happened in an interview with Michael Irvin of NFL Network.

"“Obviously, I was very embarrassed. I’m still embarrassed about the situation,” said Cooper. “You know, words hurt and I’m crushed by it. But, it felt good to know that my teammates were supporting me. Just a simple, ‘Hey Coop, I’m here for you, man’ or, just, ‘Hey, I’m praying for you, man’ or ‘Hey, I got your back’. Just little things, like, ‘Hey, we’re with you’. It meant a lot for me. That was a huge deal, you know—nationwide. That is a big deal. And to have the support of the guys that know you, it meant a lot.”"

Irvin also asked if Cooper felt after the controversy surfaced that he owed something extra to his team.

"“Luckily, that’s the way I’ve always approached it. And they see that,” said Cooper. “So, luckily they know. I’m not the fastest guy. I don’t have the best hands. I’m not the best route runner. But they know that I play hard, and I’m going to do everything I can to go get that ball and make those acrobatic catches. So, they know that I’m going to go out there and just go play super-hard.”"

It has been a year since and all has been forgiven. Even though LeSean McCoy initially had some critical comments for Cooper after it happened, Michael Vick (now a quarterback for the New York Jets, who notably has been through his own transgressions with dogfighting, put his support out for Cooper.

If anything, what has happened since has been less about Cooper and more about the n-word itself. Who knows what may have happened if the Eagles had a losing season last year instead of where they are now with Nick Foles and Chip Kelly leading the way as favorites in the NFC East again (even with losing DeSean Jackson to the Redskins).

Interesting that that last paragraph ended with Redskins because that was an immediate criticism of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s after it was announced that he was going to try to police the NFL of the n-word. Bomani Jones on ESPN’s Around the Horn once notably said that the league’s mindset was that we can tolerate racial slurs when they can’t be monetized the way “Redskins” could.

Ever since the Cooper video, the NFL was hit like a ton of defensive linebackers when another controversy involving the n-word surfaced—the Miami Dolphins’ “Bullygate” with Richie Incognito, John Jerry, Mike Pouncey, and Jonathan Martin. This involved Incognito reportedly referring to Martin on multiple occasions as the “n-word” and Incognito having conversations about “shooting black people”.

Firstly, the NFL is not going to be successful in legislating the word out of the league. One can understand the spirit of such an edict given the history of the n-word outside of the realm of hip-hop culture, but one can’t help but think that the league was trying to enter “Big Brother” territory by legislating language. This is probably language that is commonly used in NFL locker rooms already pre-Incognito and will probably be post-Incognito.

Secondly, the NFL is now embroiled in yet another controversy—involving Baltimore Ravens runningback Ray Rice who received only a two game suspension for domestic violence against his girlfriend (now wife), Janay Palmer, in an elevator at a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Rice was cheered the first time the Ravens held their open practice by the fans there. Those same fans would have likely given him a harder time if he was hearing another team’s colors (such as the black and gold of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers). Also, one must ask if the women cheered Rice.

It is obvious that fans protect their own but rip on someone else if they’re wearing another team’s colors given the tribal nature of the average American football (or sports) fan. Who is to say that if the Ravens surprise everyone and have a great year in 2014 (ala the Eagles with Cooper last year) that we forget about the Ray Rice video and focus more on the fact that he’s making more would-be tacklers look silly (as he notably did with 4th and 29 against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium).

The lesson that Ray Rice may encounter (sadly) and the one that Riley Cooper did learn is that if you perform well, fans of your team will immediately forgive you for your previous transgressions. Cooper had a great year for a playoff team and was rewarded with a big contract. Plus, he was roundly supported by his teammates. What happens with Ray Rice is yet to be seen.

Rice has yet to be sincere with his apologies, but a year later, Cooper has been sincere and has once again been embraced by his teammates, Eagles fans, and the NFL. He even mentioned in the interview with NFL Network that his parents were embarrassed when it came out that he said what he said at the Chesney show at the Linc.

If that’s not enough to humble someone’s psyche (and mouth), nothing will.

One year later, the NFL may want to put those that use language similar to what Cooper did at the concert in hot water. Cooper, himself, is sailing smoothly as he and his team enter another season where they are projected to make a deep run into the postseason.