Riley Cooper’s Presence on Eagles’ Roster Leaves Door Open for Chip Kelly Race Questions


Given the Philadelphia Eagles’ crazy off-season, I’ve been interviewed on blogs and some radio shows in different cities over the past few months. Though I’ve never gone on the record one way or another about whether I think Kelly’s emphasis on culture will lead to sustained success for the Eagles — I see drawbacks and advantages to it — I always get asked how Riley Cooper fits into said culture. I know my answer, but I feel foolish saying it.

Simply enough, I believe Chip Kelly’s culture has more to do with how a player acts in the locker room than how they act off the field. I don’t think Kelly targets players who have off-the-field issues, but he’s spoken glowingly of both Kiko Alonso and Jordan Hicks this off-season, both of whom have had off-the-field issues of their own in the past. And he traded the franchise’s greatest running-back ever for Alonso straight up, and drafted Hicks much higher than many projected him to be taken.

{Related Read: Assessing Chip Kelly’s Culture in a Post LeSean McCoy World}

Riley Cooper’s incident two summer’s ago is more difficult to evaluate. Cooper isn’t a criminal, and though he was with Kelly and some teammates at the time of his infamous drop of the worst words in the English language, he technically was away from a team function.

I am by no means making excuses for what Cooper did, but there are many levels to evaluating the incident. It’s very possible that at the time of his incident, Kelly felt that Cooper made a very regrettable decision to use a disgusting word, but that he was someone that was buying into what he was preaching in the locker room, and liked him as a receiver.

Though I felt that if Kelly and the team were willing to support Cooper at the time that it meant the team didn’t need to move on from Cooper, it’s become abundantly clear that Kelly and the organization made a mistake holding onto Cooper at the time of his incident.

Michael Vick and Jason Avant may have both come out in support of Cooper at the time of his incident, but I’ve gotten the sense over the past few months that some players on the team felt that was simply to avoid the team’s season going down the drain over the incident.

LeSean McCoy may sound like a bitter ex-girlfriend when he alludes at Kelly being racist, but he unfortunately isn’t the only one who has spoken in a similar tone.

Stephen A. Smith doesn’t have any real connections in Philadelphia (Allen Iverson aside) and is a shock-jock, so I’m not going to even address his statements.

Tra Thomas, who played in Philadelphia for 11 years and had served as a coach for the first two seasons in the Kelly era, had this to say in a March interview on FOX.

"“One of the things that you’re seeing right now, and these are the things that you have heard from the locker room from different players is that … they feel like there is a hint of racism,” Thomas said."

I don’t believe Chip Kelly is racist. He’s given big money to, among others, DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell this off-season. His first five draft picks this year, five of the six they had, were black.

However, Cooper’s presence on the roster has caused me to receive various e-mails in the past week with e-mailers explaining why this thought is at least out there. The gist of all the e-mails was pretty simple. It all was along the lines of “how can Chip Kelly get rid of two franchise greats, at least partially because they don’t buy into his culture ideals, and then keep someone recorded saying the N-word? What about using racial slurs in a sport heavy with black players fits into culture?”. It’s the same question that I’ve gotten on the aforementioned interviews.

None of this takes into account that Cooper simply hasn’t been very good for most of his NFL career, and McCoy and Jackson were two of the better Eagles’ ever.

I think the place that Kelly and the organization went wrong was not initially cutting Cooper when the incident took place. That said, they were thin at receiver at that time because of Jeremy Maclin tearing his ACL, or Cooper may very well have been cut. Their biggest problem may have actually come during the 2013 season when Cooper had a career year.

After Cooper, propelled by a huge four game mid-season stretch, posted numbers of 47 catches for 835 yards and eight touchdowns in the 2013 season, the team locked him up to a five-year/$22.5 million deal with eight million guaranteed. The deal, at least at that time, didn’t feel as though it was an unfair deal. But locking him up to a deal that suggests it could last as long as five years, even though it has little-to-no chance to actually do so, makes it look as though the organization really values the player receiving the deal.

That alone, wasn’t what has caused the race questions. Though most people, myself included, hadn’t forgiven what Cooper had said, he responded to a tumultuous training camp incident with the best season of his career. The team didn’t lock him up during training camp because of the incident, they did after a career year, despite the incident.

DeSean Jackson also had a career-year that year, one which appears to have helped sparked Cooper’s big year. After Cooper landed his extension, Jackson was released. Not only was he released, but an article citing Jackson’s gang ties, one which many believed that the Eagles had a hand in, made it look as though the team wanted an excuse to move on from Jackson.

At that time, some were quick to point to Cooper, who is white and made a racist comment prior to the season, was kept over Jackson, who is black and didn’t seem to have any real off-the-field issues until an article that many felt the Eagles helped provide information for surfaced.

More from Section 215

Then, Cooper had an extremely unproductive 2014 season. Do something bad off-the-field and produce on-the-field, and a lot of people are willing to look the other way. Do something bad off-the-field and perform poorly on-the field, and all of a sudden your play stops defining you over your past issues.

The reality of the situation is that Cooper’s incident never should have been forgotten. I write about sports and it is my job to evaluate how players play on the field, and keep that separate from other incidents they are involved in off-the-field. That doesn’t mean that Cooper’s incident isn’t the first thing that I think of when I write or talk about him, however.

The situation has become even more dicey this off-season, with McCoy being traded, and Cooper still here after an abysmal season. McCoy’s suggestion is troubling, but Thomas’ suggestion that there are some in the locker-room (who still may be there) that feel this way is probably the most concerning part.

Chip Kelly and the Eagles are all but financially stuck with Cooper in the 2015 season, or they may have outright cut him after the 2014 season due to his poor season. It’s fair to wonder if that had happened if the race talk would have even made its way to television or other outlets. I wouldn’t say there is traction to it because most people believe the talk is foolish, and I don’t disagree, but as long as a player remains on the roster that has been videotaped using the worst racial slur in the book, the talk won’t become a complete non-issue.

Next: Anonymous Philadelphia Eagles Player “LeSean McCoy is Crazy”