Bob Lutz: Riley Cooper's public display

08/02/2013 4:37 PM

08/03/2013 7:05 AM

Do we file Riley Cooper’sracial slur, caught on video at a Kenny Chesney concert in June, under “D” for “Dumb?”

Or is it something bigger, something that warrants a greater discussion of race in American culture?

I think it’s a little of both. I think another young athlete has put his foot squarely into his mouth, then was Riley Cooper. left to scramble with apologies and excuses that just don’t work.

Cooper, who reportedly blew up when told by a black security guard at the Chesney concert that he couldn’t get backstage, has been fined by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie but Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick says he has forgiven Cooper and that it’s time to move on. Many other Eagles players don’t agree with Vick and say they don’t want to play with Cooper, who is on leave from the team indefinitely while he attends sensitivity training.

I have spent a lot of time today thinking about Cooper’s racial slur. He claims he was drunk at the time and that it is not a true indication of his character. He says his parents raised him better and that they’re disgusted with his behavior.

Sorry, not buying it. Cooper’s parents may indeed be fine people, but their son isn’t. Fine people don’t say what Cooper said under any circumstances.

I have also listened to various national radio shows today, during which the Cooper discussion has been heavy. And I’m disgusted that so many people – mostly white people – don’t understand how or why this slur is offensive and why it should never be uttered by white people.

I’ve never said the N-word, not ever. Not in a moment of anger or drunkenness. And that’s not to prop myself up as some kind of moral barometer because that’s not what I am.

It’s doubtful Cooper used the word for the first time at the Chesney concert. What’s more likely is that he’s used it many times in his past, probably in much safer environments and without a bunch of people with recorders and cameras nearby.

The Eagles are sending Cooper to sensitivity training. At first blush, that seems like a cookie-cutter approach to the problem, but perhaps some training in this area will help Cooper. After all, it’s ignorance or blatant racism – and the two can easily go hand in hand – that leads someone to use the word Cooper said.

Can you be sensitivity-trained out of such a harsh character defect? I suppose so, but my fear is that Cooper will go through the motions, confident that this dark cloud will soon pass. But it won’t, especially if Cooper is just giving lip service to the severity of his blunder.

Then again, perhaps there is hope. Perhaps Cooper will genuinely pour himself into the process and press to learn as much as he can about black culture and about why what he said is so insensitive and damaging.

Once a racist, always a racist? Once ignorant, always ignorant?

Cooper has expressed remorse over his behavior. He sounds genuine, but it’s impossible to know what is in his heart.

I’m glad he was fined, but also glad that he wasn’t suspended or dropped from the Eagles. There are still so many lessons to be learned about race relations in America. We have come a long way, but not far enough that we can let down our guard. Not even close.

Cooper can be a symbol of America’s continued issues with race relations or an example of how to make progress. But he can’t fake it.

The discussion of race in this country is still hot and divisive. Far too many people just don’t understand why it’s not OK for white people to use the N-word under any circumstances. They point to the fact that the word is used by blacks in their music and in the every-day culture of black America.

There’s a simple rule that every white person in this country should follow. And you know what it is. If racism is in your heart, don’t let it come out of your mouth. And work on the heart while you’re at it.

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