Is Riley Cooper a bad guy? I don’t know. Is Riley Cooper a racist? I don’t know either. But Riley Cooper used a word you can’t use, in a manner you definitely can’t use it, and what he was before, or is after means nothing in a “perfect” world out for blood.
Everyone makes mistakes, right? Not today. Not anymore. And not those on the “right” side of a mistake made by the “wrong” people. When I saw the now infamous YouTube video of an obviously fired-up Cooper reacting poorly to an equally obvious confrontation, I got uncomfortable. Sure, I knew what was coming based on an overload of reaction in the hours following its release, but to see and hear it in the manner I did definitely left me uneasy, and due to such had me contemplating the level of consequence befitting such an act. Since then, Cooper’s been fined, later sent away for counseling, and most importantly apologized for what he said, citing “… shame and disgust” in himself. But while many of his teammates – including Michael Vick – have accepted his remorse, some are hesitant to do so, and opportunistic sharks can’t get to their ivory towers fast enough.
I’m not defending the act. It was despicable. Few words in the English language pack such a punch. Its roots stem from incomprehensible hatred, and one needn’t be African American to understand the depth with which it can cut. But to damn one for life based on an isolated incident of heightened emotion, alcohol, and a youthful level of testosterone, is predominantly self-righteous. And by all accounts this is an isolated incident.
Riley Cooper has been playing high-level sports for the better part of a decade, and in that time has been surrounded by African Americans. I’ve yet to hear a tale of prior acts regarding race, and many around the Eagles organization have spoken to him being one of the 5 or so more respected players on the team. This doesn’t appear to be a trend, nor is it behavior his peers would’ve defined him by. Guys liked him. And now due to an incredulous lack of judgment and pundits’ zest for tearing people down, his desired career, reputation, and life as he knew it, might be making its final lap around the toilet.
People don’t want to let this guy off the hook. In spite of what seemed like a pretty darned sincere apology, folks nationwide want him tarred and feathered. I’m always amused by others’ propensity for piety, in the face of their own life’s stupidity. I’ve done dumb things. I’ve even said a dumb thing or two. And while never in the manner Cooper did a month ago, intensity has caused me to do or say things I’ve regretted and had to apologize for after the fact. Yet, when someone acknowledges their indiscretion and apologizes for it, it’s our responsibility to accept said apology as sincere, in accordance with the recognition of our own failures … which we all have.
A year ago, Kobe Bryant used a homosexual slur while berating a referee on the court. He was fined, apologized, and was left to go on his way. A couple years prior, Shaquille O’Neal mocked Asians in a response regarding Yao Ming, again was let off the hook. Last year, Chris Culliver of the San Francisco 49ers openly criticized homosexuals at Super Bowl Media Day, now it’s water under the bridge. And in 2011, current Philadelphia Eagle and teammate of Riley Cooper, DeSean Jackson, went on a radio program and openly used an anti-gay term. Reaction? You likely hadn’t heard or have forgotten about it by now. Homophobia might be the closest thing we have to racial bigotry these days, yet perpetrators of acts against homosexuals often seem to be swept under the rug by the same people decrying the act of one Riley Cooper.
Shortly following Cooper’s apology a few days ago, Hall of Fame and ex-Dallas Cowboy great Michael Irvin applauded Riley’s apology in an interview with the NFL Network . He cited his own propensity, along with the music industry to use the word as a potential problem, and asserted that this might be a good opportunity to make change. “We’re making millions of dollars off of saying it, and everybody’s saying it and then we turn around and get so mad that someone else says it,” Irvin said. “And I’m guilty. I’m guilty. Maybe we should start looking at that, because I want harmony for my sons. I want us to be able to live together in harmony and I think that’s what we all should work towards. And maybe we should start looking at that.” And he’s right. Hate and insensitivity are not subjective, nor are they exclusive to “bad people.” Good people make mistakes, but good people also own their mistakes and are accountable for their actions. Is Riley Cooper a good person? I don’t know, but he made a mistake and he’s since owned-up to it. While it’s our job to hold him accountable for that mistake, it’s also our job to forgive him for something he’s – to this point – recognized as wrong.
Life isn’t about perfection. If it were, where would you be today?