Cutting Cooper would be good move for Eagles, bad move for society
Riley Cooper and his slur are in their fourth straight day of dominating the Philadelphia sports-news cycle, and the most common reaction by fans (and media personalities) seems to be “Cut him, he’s not good enough to be worth the distraction.”
If you’re concerned about football first and foremost, yeah, that view makes sense. Cooper is a white kid in a league (and team) that primarily employs black players, and he dropped the slur to end all slurs. There could be no greater locker-room distraction than this in the 21st century. It’s the kind of thing that really could destroy team unity if allowed to fester. So the wisdom goes: he’s not a good enough football player to justify the disturbance (and possible division) that his presence will cause from here on out. Kicking him to the curb frees up the rest of the team from having to think about it or deal with it, which in theory could make the team perform better as a whole.
Let’s get real: That’s convenient. It would be an expedient move that still leaves football first. And this is way more important than football.
Like Cooper, I’m a young white guy. And as a white guy, I will never, ever be able to fully grasp the experience of the pain caused by that word. There’s just no context for it. No epithet for white people exists that can similarly evoke generations upon generations of suffering and pain.
If we’re to live together, if we’re to be united as our nation’s name proclaims us to be, we must find a way to remove more than just this behavior. You can’t just take out the words. You have to get rid of the feelings that make the use of such words acceptable.
But if white people don’t, and can’t, ever really “get it,” then how can you correct it? How can you cut out the racist undercurrent that is still present in so much of our country if there’s no emotional response that is equivalent to the justified pain and anger that prejudice causes?
Shame. We must make racism in all its forms – deed, word, and thought – shameful.
Here’s where we get back to Cooper. If you cut Cooper, it would certainly be a sufficient punishment. He’d lose his income, perhaps his career, and he’ll regret his vicious drunken words for the rest of his days.
But what happens to the rest of us? We get off easy. We get to forget. Most will think about it for another day or two, and then he becomes a footnote in history. We get to stop dealing with it. We get to push our country’s racist undercurrent to the back burner again: Cooper learns his lesson, but the rest of us continue on as we were. No lesson learned. Nothing gained.
But if Cooper keeps his job with the Eagles, if Cooper remains a professional athlete – and by default a public figure – then he will continue to be shamed in public. He will have to face, week to week, day to day, the very people whom he so quickly and savagely disparaged with his utterance of hate. Cooper will get a second chance at playing football on the merit of his talent for football – as have so many others who committed felonies or other heinous acts – but the continued attention on him will help serve as a persistent reminder of what not to do, and what not to say, and most importantly how not to think. He can serve as a prime example of who we can’t allow ourselves to be – tolerant on the surface, but bigoted underneath.
As of right now, the Eagles are taking the hard path. They’re letting Cooper stay. And maybe, just maybe, witnessing the shame and embarrassment and anger that Cooper will continue to experience at the hands of the public – and his teammates – might make everybody grow and change for the better.
The opinions expressed in this article are held by this writer, and are not necessarily reflective of the views of the other writers on this website.