The NFL is many things. It’s exciting, it’s captivating, it’s a fine way to create the perfect couch groove, and from September to early February (and often, far beyond), it’s all-encompassing. But Riley Cooper has shown us again that it’s also confused, and deeply conflicted on matters tied to potential character flaws.
There is, and likely always will be, a double standard that’s rooted in talent, or team circumstances. Following Cooper’s disgusting racist comment captured at a Kenny Chesney concert that went viral earlier this week, it’s the latter. Jeremy Maclin is gone for the year due to an ACL tear, meaning that beyond Cooper, there’s only replacement-level talent in Jason Avant, Damaris Johnson, and Arrelious Benn on the Eagles roster. For a team attempting to right itself quickly under a new head coach with his fancy new whizzbang offensive wizardry, starting any of those names opposite DeSean Jackson feels disastrous.
But Cooper isn’t a dazzling talent himself, with his 679 receiving yards on 46 receptions over three NFL seasons. He just happens to be the newest of the rusty, decaying used cars on this particular lot. In addition to being fined by the team and creating an internal divide among his teammates, with LeSean McCoy saying he’s lost both all respect and a friend, Cooper has now been excused from all team activities to seek counseling. A team meeting was held today, and according to Albert Breer, players conceded that putting Cooper’s comments behind them is difficult, and it will be for a while. The easiest solution to that problem would be for the Eagles to leave Cooper behind.
Multiple sources — including PFT and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport — have reported that if the Eagles had a healthy Maclin, Cooper would have been released and unemployed right now. That could still happen, as recent history creates a murky image of Cooper’s future with the team, and how poor conduct of any kind (be it legal in nature, or more fundamental behavioral issues) is handled.
Michael Vick has thrived at times during a second chance after a dog fighting conviction, Ray Lewis had a hall of fame career despite an early murder accusation and trial, and Albert Haynesworth was given second and third chances after being an overall turd in Washington, highlighted by a highway punch-up. Then there’s Aqib Talib, who stayed with the Bucs after allegedly shooting at his sister’s boyfriend, and he’s now a Patriots employee following a trade four games into the 2012 season.
The focus is often more on the potential for a distraction, than any legal wrongdoings. Because that’s really what this is about. The career of a head coach — and especially a rookie head coach like Chip Kelly — is based on results, and it can therefore be fragile. Any minor distraction that leads to an imbalance in team chemistry (that vague, difficult to define, umbrella term) can in turn end in an undesirable outcome.
We assume that’s what could happen with Cooper, which is why his exit feels very possible, even if Kelly says otherwise right now. Eventually, when the distraction factor exceeds talent — or in Cooper’s case, his seemingly vital role as a Maclin replacement on a thin WR depth chart — then a move is forthcoming.
Randy Moss’ petulance was tolerated for three years in New England. Then one day he cocked his hat sideways, and too many idiotic words came out. During that same season he decided that the Vikings’ catered meal was crap and unfit for even his canine friends, and his comedic act grew tiresome there too.
Then there’s Percy Harvin, who reportedly had verbal confrontations with both Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier, and one particularly immature spectacle ended in the workout room, with Harvin throwing a weight at Childress. He has immense talent, and his presence was sorely needed on a Vikings offense which leaned heavily on Adrian Peterson last year after Harvin’s injury, because Christian Ponder had little support. But Harvin’s selfish mentality wasn’t worth the distraction, so he was traded to Seattle, and replaced in Minnesota by veteran Greg Jennings, and first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson.
There’s that word again. Distraction.
Those examples are the counterpoint to Vick, Lewis, Haynesworth, and Talib, and they show the inconsistent handling of character flaws and sometimes even legal or criminal missteps. Often only the most extreme situations like the one presented to the Patriots by Aaron Hernandez (or to the Falcons by Vick, though again, he was signed after his league exile) lead to an immediate and harsh response.
Consistency isn’t king, and the reaction to a distraction depends on team circumstances. The result is a unique professional environment, as there are very few professions where an outburst like Cooper’s would be tolerated.
It’s difficult to draw an accurate comparison, because Cooper is a public figure. But try looking inward.
Example: I’m paid to write words on the Internet (I know, it’s horrible…sometimes our office kitchen runs out of Twix). Even people who aren’t among the 11 regular readers here and just happen to land on this space know my name, and they know my face. It’s up there in the top corner, though that picture is a little inaccurate since months ago I decided shaving sucks.
If I were dumb enough to think that the word Cooper used is acceptable and could be published on the Internet, I’m quite confident (really, really confident) that word would be one of the last words I type around here.
Maybe even I’m not a good example, since this gig is a little unique too (my mom says I’m cool). Well, for various occupations, a lot of you work in the standard office environment. If, for whatever incomprehensible reason, that word was said loudly in an office, at the very least a severe punishment would follow, and co-workers wouldn’t view the person who used the offensive language the same way again.
It would be a distraction, and an unwelcome one.