I typically don’t write about professional athletes doing stupid things because I have absolutely no interest and it serves no purpose. But Riley Cooper’s actions from last month can be very instructive and deserves my attention.
Riley Cooper is about to begin his fourth season as a wide receiver with Philadelphia Eagles of the N.F.L. The 25-year-old was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Clearwater, Fla. He played football for the University of Florida. By all accounts, he is a very good receiver and has been a model teammate during his years in the league.
Last month, he attended a Kenny Chesney concert in Philadelphia. He was denied backstage access before the concert and became visibly angry based on the video that has gone viral. In the video, Riley can be seen and heard telling security (who cannot be seen in the video and is said to be Black), “I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here, bro.”
After the video went viral, Riley issued a series of tweets apologizing for his actions and words, “I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, Jeffrey Lurie, and Howie Roseman and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did…Was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”
The chairman and CEO of the team, Jeffrey Lurie issued this statement on behalf of the team, saying: “We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper’s words. This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident.”
The team then posted a statement on their website: “In meeting with Riley yesterday, we decided together that his next step will be to seek outside assistance to help him fully understand the impact of his words and actions. He needs to reflect. As an organization, we will provide the resources he needs to do so.”
What Cooper said was stupid. But, what I am having a problem reconciling is the reaction of the public in general and the team and N.F.L. in particular.
I have had many professional athletes as clients and friends and spend a considerable amount of time with them both in public and in private. I am appalled at how freely the word nigger is used by these athletes in mixed crowds. Riley is White, but I can assure you that his Black teammates use the word nigger around him—on the field, in the locker room, and when they are together privately.
I am not making a judgment as to whether it is right or wrong; I am simply sharing my personal interactions with professional athletes in various settings. This is the dilemma the Black community has created for the broader public. We give rappers, entertainers, and other Blacks a pass when they use the word nigger, but then want to hold a White person to a different standard. There must be one standard when it comes to the usage of this word – it is not acceptable for anyone, under any circumstance to use it. Period.
Team management and N.F.L. officials hear the word used on the sidelines every Sunday during the games and every now and then league microphones picks up the word being used on the field during live games. Coarse language is part and parcel of the N.F.L., but is not for public consumption.
So, why is there no outrage by team and league officials when they hear these words on the sideline? Oh, I forgot, this feigned outrage over Cooper’s comments were caught on camera and the outrage is more of a public relations response—to protect their sport’s brand.
My point is very simple: If we in the Black community didn’t use the word nigger, then others wouldn’t feel comfortable using it, either. Cooper is totally responsible for what came out of his mouth; but the Black community is responsible for making him feel comfortable saying it.
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.