Michael Vick said it was easy to forgive and hard to understand Riley Cooper's use of a racial epithet. (USA Today Images)
Nobody said they’d never forgive him. Nobody called for his trade or release. Nobody encouraged fans and media to make Riley Cooper pay dearly for making a racist remark that went viral Wednesday.
Several of the Eagles’ veteran leaders spoke to reporters just before leaving the NovaCare Complex to answer questions about Cooper, who inspired a media firestorm when a video surfaced of the fourth-year wideout shouting a racial slur during a June confrontation at a Kenny Chesney concert (see story).
Cooper had already addressed the team during a meeting and apologized for his remark.
Some said they were hurt and shocked to hear what Cooper had said, but none said he wouldn’t accept Cooper in the clubhouse.
“Riley came to us as a man and apologized for what he did,” quarterback Michael Vick said. “As a team we understood because we all make mistakes in life and we all do and say things that maybe we do mean and maybe we don’t mean.
“But as a teammate I forgave him. We understand the magnitude of the situation. We understand a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper. I know him as a man. I’ve been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. That’s what makes it easy, and at the same time, hard to understand. But easy to forgive him.”
Second-year defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said “everybody makes mistakes in life” and noted that Cooper “stood up like a man” during the evening meeting.
Third-year safety Kurt Coleman, who is biracial, said nobody’s perfect.
“Do I think the comment was insensitive? Yeah, and he knows that,” he said.
Longtime wideout Jason Avant said he was stunned to hear the slur because he’s spent so much time with Cooper and had never seen a racist side to his teammate.
“I feel bad for him because we have different guys from around the league that are on our team this year that [don’t] really know him,” Avant said. “I’ve been around him for years. I know his personality and I know that we’ve gone places, done certain things and it’s never been an issue. I just know him. He’s not a racist.
“And even like with Jeremy Maclin getting hurt the other day, the first person there is Riley Cooper. The first person that’s holding his lunch is Riley Cooper in line. They’re like best buds, and when you see a situation like that, you know, it hurts. But you understand that men are fallible. That’s just the bottom line. You just hope things like this [don’t] occur a second time.”
Vick and Avant each talked with reporters for several minutes, each sharing their shock and despair over hearing a teammate use a racist word but each also empathizing with Cooper’s plight based on their own backgrounds.
Vick, once one of the world’s most popular athletes, is still one of the NFL’s most polarizing figures for his involvement in an illegal dog-fighting circuit that led to his imprisonment and temporary suspension from the NFL.
Avant has spoken openly about his troubled background growing up in Chicago, where he hung out with gang lords and lived the street life.
Vick said he spoke to Cooper inside the practice bubble for about 15 minutes and then spoke to the team during an open dialogue session encouraged by coach Chip Kelly.
“I wouldn’t advise nobody to intentionally try to do something to hurt the guy,” Vick said, “because we all look at it like this: What if your son or daughter made a mistake in this fashion? How would you want people to perceive them? I’ve been there before. Somehow, we’ve all got to find a way to get past it. That’s maturity.”
Avant said Cooper faces a tough road ahead.
“A lot of guys forgave him right away. There’s gonna be guys that, it’s gonna take a couple of days, or a week, or a month,” he added. “It’s gonna be something that he has to deal with. But I don’t think that is a reflection of who Riley is. I think that’s an isolated incident.”
Where’s the outrage? Where’s the cold shoulder?
Avant said kneejerk reactions would only serve to be divisive and unproductive, spoiling the opportunity for people to have positive discourse and come away with a better understanding of each other.
“Well, the easiest thing for the media and the easiest thing for people to do is respond off initial feelings,” he said. “I don’t know about you guys, but if I had a camera following me my whole life, you wouldn’t see the greatest things.
“And if everybody was to take inventory of themselves around the country, around the world, to realize that we all haven’t been perfect, and it may not be an area of racism. It could be many different things that people could paint you as a bad person. If we took account of all those things, all of us would be found guilty.”
“For anyone that’s watching this, it’s not some kind of sweep-under-the-rug type thing. There are certain things that we deal with amongst each other that’s dealt with there. With that being said, it’s no place for that -- anyway, anyhow, anywhere.
“But at the same time, it’s one of those things that we can respond like the world and everyone else around us on Twitter. Everyone is really tough on Twitter and really tough on social media and we can respond like that, which won’t help anyone out in the future. We need to come to some dialogue, some discussions, the root issues, those types of things. So we’re merciful as a team toward Riley, toward his family, but at the same time we realize that it offended a whole bunch of people, me personally.”