Stephen Silver wonders why anyone would try to defend Riley Cooper. He’s not even defending himself.
The biggest story of the first week of NFL training camp centered on a former University of Florida football player who is, surprisingly, not Aaron Hernandez or Tim Tebow.
It was the revelation that Riley Cooper, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, had back in June directed a racial slur at a black security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert, one held at the team’s home stadium, Lincoln Financial Field. The cell phone-recorded video, first obtained and posted online by local sports blog Crossing Broad, also featured Cooper threatening to “fight all the [n-word]s here.”
The afternoon the story broke, Cooper met with reporters outside the team’s facility, was contrite and apologetic, and took responsibility for what he had done. The Eagles fined him, and a couple of days later he announced he was taking a leave of absence from the team to undergo counseling. (Cooper has since returned to the team.) Subsequent reporting has showed that Cooper, who had been drinking at the concert, became agitated when he wasn’t permitted to go backstage.
Since this happened, at least locally here in Philly, much of the debate has been about whether or not Cooper can return to a team and a league with a majority of black players, whether or not the Eagles should have cut him, and what the incident means to the team on the field, with its receiving corps already depleted by the season-ending injury to Jeremy Maclin.
While there’s occasionally worthwhile perspective, local sports radio has been full of questions like, “What’s worse—Cooper’s slur or Michael Vick’s dogfighting?” and “What’s worse—Cooper’s slur, or drunk driving?” These meaningless, apples-or-oranges questions are just that—silly, time-wasting sports radio topics.
But there’s been another current of reaction to the Cooper incident that’s much dumber and uglier. It’s the idea that what Cooper said isn’t that big a deal because black people—likely including Cooper’s own teammates—use the n-word with each other all the time. And what about all those rappers who throw the word around in every verse? What about those comedians on HBO?
What about freedom of speech? WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD??? What has this country come to when white people can’t freely toss around n-bombs anymore?
This is breathtakingly stupid, for a whole host of reasons.
First of all, there’s little use in defending Cooper, because he’s not even defending himself. If Cooper had gone out to the press that day and said “I did nothing wrong, I can call anyone whatever I want to, and it’s none of anyone’s business,” then that would be one thing—and the team would probably have immediately released him. Cooper himself believes what he did was wrong, so there’s little sense in anyone sticking up for him to say the opposite.
Leave aside the historical implications in which white-on-black use of the word has a very specific, historically loaded connotation that goes back centuries, in the way that Jay-Z lyrics, or one young black man referring to his buddy as “my nigga,” do not.
Consider the context: Cooper was using the word in a threatening and confrontational manner towards another individual, which doesn’t tend to be the case when rappers and comedians do it. Avoiding directly nasty uses of the n-word isn’t about political correctness—it’s more about being a decent human being.
Not to mention, as pointed out in a humorous Venn diagram on Twitter by BobbyBigWheel, virtually none of the people making the “what about rappers” argument have likely ever listened to rap in their lives or have more than a passing familiarity with hip-hop culture. That argument is concern-trolling, pure and simple.
Look. There are a whole lot of racial double standards in American life. But nearly all of them favor white people, and of those double standards, “black people can use the n-word and white people can’t” is not one of the more egregious ones, compared to, say, racial profiling, stop-and-frisk, and voter ID laws.
Not to excuse what Cooper said, but I’ll say this for him: he said something racist and seems legitimately sorry about it. The politicians all over the country attempting to to chip away at the right of African-Americans to vote aren’t sorry for a second.
Photo: AP/Yong Kim