Eagles never really dealt with Riley Cooper problem

Riley Cooper, back in training camp, signs an autograph for Eagles fan Taj DeFrance.
Riley Cooper, back in training camp, signs an autograph for Eagles fan Taj DeFrance. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 08, 2013

The Eagles' plan for handling the Riley Cooper situation became clear Tuesday.

There is no plan. There never was. The team acted quickly to fine Cooper for his videotaped racist threat, then ducked low and hoped it would all blow over.

The assumption that Cooper went to some kind of sensitivity training or counseling program appears incorrect. The Eagles excused him from team activities on Friday so he could "seek assistance."

Coach Chip Kelly said there was no timetable for Cooper's return.

"We'll make sure we announce it so it's not going to be a surprise to anybody," Kelly said.

Four days later, to the surprise of everybody, Cooper was back. There was no announcement. He just showed up at the NovaCare Complex on the first day of combined workouts with the New England Patriots.

The obvious jokes about a miracle cure for racism were made, but it's hard to believe Cooper entered any kind of program or training. All the talk about his racial animus, about the role of alcohol and the need for better anger management, was from the outside. Internally, all Cooper had to do was call up and say he was ready to come back.

"Riley wasn't suspended," Kelly said, "so it wasn't like I needed verification to come back."

Kelly's source for Cooper's readiness?

"I spoke to Riley," he said.

From Cooper's comments, it seems clear he went home to Florida to spend time with his parents. He wouldn't identify anyone else he might have spoken to, although this situation screams for transparency.

Asked directly if he would reconsider drinking alcohol after his outburst, he said the subject hadn't come up. In any professionally guided attempt to examine his actions and attitudes, alcohol would have come up in the first five minutes.

Cooper also said he "wants to" meet with the African American security guard he slurred at the Kenny Chesney concert. Again, any coordinated plan to address this situation would have included such a meeting before Cooper was back in front of TV cameras. The guard works for the company that provides security at the stadium the Eagles manage. He can't be that hard to find.

Kelly said Cooper spoke with every one of his teammates individually. Cooper said he wasn't seeking their forgiveness.

"That puts the burden on you instead of me," Cooper said.

A nice sentiment. But everything about this mess has been a burden on Cooper's teammates, especially those who are African American. They've had to address a loaded, emotional issue in a very public way. Their reactions are then being used as a pass/fail test on whether they are team-first enough.

It is all very well to celebrate the honorable, gracious words of teammates like Jason Avant and DeMeco Ryans. They have been remarkable, true role models for how to handle divisive situations.

But it is wrong to condemn or criticize players who are slower to forgive and forget. They did not ask for this. It was forced on them, first by Cooper's action and then by their employer's reaction. None of them were excused from team activities until they felt better about things.

In 2005, when Terrell Owens was disrupting training camp in his quest for a new contract, I wrote that Andy Reid should cut the petulant wideout and move on. He didn't, and the season was a disaster. By November, when Reid did release Owens, it was too late.

Cooper is not likely to create any further disturbances. The issue here is whether the cracks created by this franchise-shaking episode become wider as the season goes on.

If they'd released Cooper immediately, the Eagles could have minimized the chances for that. If they'd suspended him for a game or two, they would at least have shown they weren't putting football first here.

That moment has passed. All the Eagles can do now is hope nothing happens to widen those cracks: some new revelation about Cooper, or Kelly needing to discipline another player, or the ordinary tensions that come with losing a game or two.

It might all blow over. It might all blow up. Cross your fingers and hope, because that's what the Eagles are doing here.

Click here for complete coverage of Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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