Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper has left the team to receive “counseling,” according to the team. Cooper, as most of the world now knows, uttered a racial slur that you just can’t say in 21st-century America without serious repercussions. Cooper used the word at a Kenny Chesney concert in June, it was captured by a mobile phone and eventually went viral.
The Eagles say Cooper will be back. I can’t see it.
It’s not that he deserves to be punished. It’s not that he needs to go find something about himself, some sort of rehab or counseling or anything. It’s just that the Eagles can’t afford to waste 15 seconds on trying to make this work.
Just ask the University of Oklahoma.
Eight years ago, Larry Cochell lost his job as the OU baseball coach, for saying the word. Cochell wasn’t drinking when he said it. He wasn’t calling anyone in particular the word. He just used it to describe a situation while talking with an ESPN broadcast crew, off camera. Why did Cochell do it? Frankly, because he didn’t know any better.
Cochell was not a bad person before saying the word, and saying the word didn’t make him a bad person. It just made it impossible for Cochell to do his job. Too many questions, too much confusion, too much doubt, too much wondering what else is in his head and his heart. When Cochell’s use of the word came to light, I sat down and wrote a column. My lead sentence was: “Larry Cochell has coached his final game at OU.”
Same with Riley Cooper. An NFL locker room doesn’t have to be a campfire scene, with everyone sitting around singing songs and roasting marshmallows. But it also can’t be a pirate ship; people on the vessel have to be able to trust each other to some degree. The Eagles can’t trust Cooper now. Cooper opened the door. He made his teammates, black and white, wonder from where that word came.
I went back and read my column from May 2005. It’s remarkable how it also applies to Riley Cooper.
“Few crimes in sport can be more damning.” I’d say that’s right.
“You can’t say it on the job, at least not a self-respecting job. You can’t say it on a ballfield. You for sure can’t say it on a college campus. And that’s not political correctness. That’s common decency. It’s not a word that sparks dialogue. It’s a word that sparks an inferno. Yes, we as a society have become too sensitive to many a thing. This is not one of them.”
I believe that’s rock solid, too.
Maybe some workplaces you can still get by with that. Heck, I’m sure there are some workplaces where you can get by with that. But there are more workplaces where you can’t. You couldn’t at mine, and I don’t mean management would drop the hammer. We wouldn’t put up with it. Anyone who talked like that could not win back most colleagues’ trust. There would be only one reasonable conclusion.
The Eagles know what that conclusion is. So does Riley Cooper.