For Gator Nation, it's been a Bummer Summer. On the heels of the PR nightmare of Aaron Hernandez (one of the best tight ends of the Urban Meyer era) facing murder charges in New England comes the recent embarrassment presented by Riley Cooper, former Gators wide receiver, who got liquored up at a Kenny Chesney concert and torpedoed his career by tossing a racial slur at a security guard.
As with Hernandez — whom Tim Tebow accompanied to a bar at least once when both were Gators — there's a Tebow connection to Cooper: They were college roommates. It makes you wonder what Tebow's take on all this might be. However, the Patriots quarterback has yet to offer a response at press time; it's likely he never will.
In the hours after Cooper's drunken "I will jump that fence and fight every n***** here, bro" comment, there was no shortage of instant analysis. There were some who felt Cooper's unfortunate incident signified a larger sense of entitlement, as a reasonably prominent member of the Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver corps.
"According to a number of sources, Riley Cooper wanted to be treated as if he was Bradley Cooper at the Chesney concert," Joseph Santoliquito wrote on the Philadelphia CBS affiliate's website. "He was an unruly ‘drunk who wanted the red-carpet treatment and security to basically kiss his ass, because he was "Riley Cooper, an Eagle," from what I saw,' said someone close to what happened that night. Apparently, when Cooper pulled out the ‘Don't-you-know-who-I-am' card, it wasn't acknowledged. ‘Security wasn't having it,' and Cooper apparently had a snit-fit."
While he's not the first white guy to get drunk and go atavistic and hateful with ill-considered rhetoric, Cooper faces a problem that is specific to his line of work.
Former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe talked about it on "The Norris & Davis Show" on Baltimore radio station 105.7 The Fan.
"What he did open was a can of worms for everybody else that plays on the opposite side of the football that's gonna be teeing off on him. Because most of the safeties in the National Football League are African-American. Most of the corners — African-American. A lot of the linebackers — African-American. Those are the guys that he's gonna have to face. Those are the guys that he's gonna have to make amends to."
The Eagles come to Jacksonville for the third preseason game — especially pivotal, because that's when teams generally give their starters the most playing time before the regular season. And it looks like Cooper will be with them, because the team reactivated him to the roster Aug. 6, in time for the Eagles' game with the Patriots.
"As we have said, Riley Cooper will be seeking counseling and we have excused him from all team activities," the Eagles said in a statement. "This is all new territory and we are going to evaluate this timetable every step of the way. He will meet with professionals provided by the Eagles during this period of time to better help him understand how his words have hurt so many, including
Undoubtedly, Cooper performed well in counseling, no matter what feelings may linger in his heart. As creatures of the modern age, most contemporary Americans are quite good at avoiding making offensive statements when they make an effort, and Cooper seems among them. That said, the Eagles are running a serious risk in keeping Cooper on the roster.
He can't run crossing routes again. Or do dirty work on special teams. Or really do anything that leaves him exposed to a hit to the head, the groin or any other sensitive body part. Riley Cooper is a marked man. And with just a few ill-chosen words, his position just became unhealthy for him.
Undoubtedly, not every cornerback or linebacker will key in on him. But all it takes is one.
All recent accounts stress how sorry Cooper is for his words, how out of character the outburst was and so on. Perhaps he was just blackout drunk and was not in his right mind when he popped off on the security guard. In the end, it doesn't matter. In a league like the NFL, where motivation is manufactured every time teams take the field, there certainly will be a player who seeks to give Riley Cooper a "receipt." The problem with using racially coded language, in that context, is the age-old issue of writing checks one's butt can't cash.