More than seven weeks elapsed last year between the time an inebriated Riley Cooper shouted a racial slur at a security guard keeping him from the backstage presence of Kenny Chesney and when the cellphone video of that incident was made public.
In the interim, a lot of things happened. The video made its way from the phone of a young lady who was hanging on the periphery of the action that evening and into the hands of some high-quality friends who eventually thought they would like to make some money by messing up someone else's life.
The argument can be made that Cooper messed up his own life with his actions, and that is beyond debate, but the denouement couldn't have taken place without the help of some dirtbags seeking fortune they hadn't earned and a website willing to trade a little money for a lot of attention. You are free to pick out the villain of your choosing, but there aren't any heroes in this little story.
As it turned out, however, the most influential event that happened in the time between concert and consternation took place July 27, just four days before the video became public. It happened at the moment Jeremy Maclin planted his right leg during a training-camp drill and felt the anterior cruciate ligament in that knee give way.
Everything in life is dependent on time and place, and that is particularly so in professional sports as players hope to end up where their skills are needed and when the time is right to maximize their athletic and financial accomplishments.
Cooper, against the odds, found that 2013 was his time and place with the Eagles. As a result, he signed a five-year, $25 million contract this week, of which two years and $8 million are guaranteed. Cooper was able to negotiate the contract after catching 47 passes for 835 yards and establishing himself as a reliable target for quarterback Nick Foles; a dedicated downfield blocker; and an individual who, even if nothing much else is up there, is tough above the neck.
Business is business, and for Cooper, business is good now. It works that way in all professional sports for players who produce, almost regardless of what happens away from the playing field. The Eagles are a good example of that, having provided a five-year payday for a man who had been part of a cruel dogfighting and euthanizing operation and had just emerged from federal prison after an 18-month racketeering incarceration.
From the outside, Michael Vick might have seemed like an untouchable. What organization would willingly bring that backlash on itself? The Eagles did, however, and by midway through the 2010 season, every general manager in the league would have been ready to say, "Well, you know, I was always more of a cat person."
The list goes on. Ray Lewis was convicted of obstruction of justice in a murder investigation, and he was able to play out his career as if it never happened. Why? Because he was a very good linebacker. Athletes beat up their wives and girlfriends, get nabbed with drugs, drink and drive, and engage in all manner of behavior that would cause consequences in the real world. In the case of those athletes who are not stars, the consequences are real for them, too.
That's where time and place really mattered for Cooper. The question of whether Cooper made one unfortunate mistake or was caught in something more revealing isn't the point, even if that question were answerable by someone other than Cooper, which it isn't.
The point is that if getting rid of Cooper made more sense for the organization than keeping him, the Eagles would have claimed some higher moral ground and released him in August. There was going to be backlash and a lot of nonsense and distraction to deal with, and that looked like a lot of trouble to endure for a receiver who had just 46 catches in his first three seasons and was regarded as generally unable to get separation from his defender.
We'll never know what the Eagles would have done had Maclin remained healthy, but we know what they did in his absence. The only other wide receivers vying to play opposite DeSean Jackson were Jason Avant and Damaris Johnson. Maybe Cooper wouldn't have remained in the mix if the receiving group had been deeper, but he wasn't going to get kicked out of that shallow pool for a verbal misstep, even a bad one.
Time and place, and despite everything that happened, Riley Cooper ended up with a nice, new contract. He should thank the Eagles for sticking with him, and the fans who embraced his success, and the locker room that gave him a second chance - as long as he performed. He should remember to thank Jeremy Maclin, too. Without Maclin, the story comes out a lot differently.