Eagles didn't go far enough in disciplining Riley Cooper

Riley Cooper apologizes for using a racial slur. A video showing the Eagles wide receiver uttering the slur surfaced Wednesday.    YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Riley Cooper apologizes for using a racial slur. A video showing the Eagles wide receiver uttering the slur surfaced Wednesday.    YONG KIM / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 02, 2013

It is going to get worse, probably much worse, for Riley Cooper and the Eagles before it gets any better.

The team guaranteed that with its tepid discipline of Cooper for using the most vile of racial epithets in a video that went viral Wednesday afternoon. After meeting with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman, and head coach Chip Kelly - three white men - Cooper got off with a fine.

A suspension would have been more appropriate. Releasing Cooper from the team would have been within reason. The message would be clear, that racism simply is not tolerated by the Eagles or the NFL. Now the message is that racism will cost you a few bucks.

That's not good enough, and it won't be good enough for the waves of angry fans and media commentators who are about to crash down on this franchise. It shouldn't be good enough.

This is Kelly's first real test as an NFL head coach. But Lurie has seen enough situations turn toxic - Terrell Owens, signing Michael Vick, racially charged criticisms of Donovan McNabb - that he should recognize one before it spins out of control.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is certain to look into the situation. Goodell has a well-earned reputation for handing out suspensions to anyone who embarrasses his league. It is safe to say that Cooper embarrassed the league.

It would mean much more to Eagles fans and, not insignificant, to the other players on the team, if a harsher penalty came from the Eagles. Letting Goodell do their dirty work will make the organization look softer on this matter than it already does.

If all that sounds harsh based on a one-word act of idiocy, watch the video, which first appeared on the local sports blog Crossing Broad before vaulting onto the larger stage at Deadspin. It's all there.

In the video, taken at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field in June, Cooper has a beer in his hand. He is agitated about something but hardly out of control. Eagles teammate Jason Kelce is clearly visible, apparently trying to calm down Cooper. Then Cooper says it.

"I will ... fight every n- here, bro," Cooper says.

He is looking right into the camera or cellphone that is recording him. The word rolls out of his mouth with shocking familiarity. Again, Cooper appears angry but not so drunk or enraged that such a word would 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 way better than that."

But the 25-year-old wide receiver also said "I was by myself" when the incident occurred, even though Kelce is plainly visible on the video. Sometime during the evening, Cooper, Kelce, Kelly, and a handful of other players appeared on stage with Chesney for his song, "Boys of Fall."

It is understandable that Cooper would try to protect his teammates, but honesty is more important at a time like this. If he is lying about Kelce's being there, how is anyone supposed to trust anything else he says?

People make mistakes. Some mistakes, though, reveal more about a person's character than others.

Vick's abuse and torture of dogs was that kind of mistake. Lurie and the Eagles gave Vick his second chance in the NFL after his prison term. But it's not coincidental that his original team, the Atlanta Falcons, wanted no part of their former star. The groundwater was poisoned.

Cooper didn't delight in killing animals. He didn't harm anyone physically. He is not being investigated for murder like New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez.

What he did was create an ugly and intolerable situation in a locker room populated mostly by African Americans, in a league that is largely African American. He did it by spitting out the most vile word possible, in public, with a video device in his face.

The Eagles tried to manage the situation Wednesday. They fined Cooper and made him hold a humiliating news conference. They are hoping that will be enough.

It won't. That will seem obvious to them soon.

Click here for complete coverage of the Eagles training camp.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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