Eagles have let Cooper situation fester
It would have been good if the Eagles had only opened a can of worms with the way they handled the Riley Cooper controversy early in training camp.
Instead, they find themselves burdened with an entire silo of the slithering creatures, and the chute holding them all opened Thursday morning at the NovaCare Complex.
In any other NFL city, the altercation that erupted between Cooper and cornerback Cary Williams would have been a forgotten footnote by the time Monday night's game against the Washington Redskins arrived. Offensive and defensive teammates get involved in scrums all the time, and this appeared to start as nothing more than that.
During a one-on-one period, Cooper ran a short post route, and as the pass from Michael Vick arrived, Williams went over the top of the receiver to break up the play. Both players went to the ground, but quickly got to their feet and immediately started shoving each other.
Williams, a free-agent acquisition from Baltimore known for his aggressive play, grabbed Cooper's face mask before the two men were separated by teammates and coaches.
That was only the beginning of the episode. Williams discarded his helmet and wanted to say more to Cooper, the receiver who triggered a training-camp firestorm when a video from the Kenny Chesney concert in June at Lincoln Financial Field caught him directing a racial slur at an African American security guard.
This time, it was Williams, an African American, who provided the racially charged language. A source told The Inquirer's Jeff McLane that Williams shouted at Cooper several times that "I'm not a n- you [mess] with."
Here come the worms.
Let's look back at how the Eagles handled the Cooper incident.
First there was the weak statement from owner Jeffrey Lurie.
"We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper's words," he said. "This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident."
The punishment was equally as weak and did not sit well with some of Cooper's teammates.
So now you have an African American player who has used the same racially charged word. He was referring to himself, but for some people that's as big a societal problem as the word being used as a racial slur.
During a radio interview last month on WPEN-FM (97.5), former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins made the poignant point that he stopped using the word when someone reminded him that it was the last thing a lot of African Americans heard before being killed by lynching.
I'm not saying the Eagles should punish Williams for using the word. In fact, based on how lenient they were with Cooper, they're not in a position to reprimand him at all.
At some point this season, however, there will likely be an incident that requires some kind of fine or even a suspension. The bar for those penalties was set low because of how the Eagles mishandled the Cooper situation. Had they at least suspended him for a couple of games, the message that some things will not be tolerated would have been sent.
Of course, Williams' word choice was also interesting because it makes you wonder if he had pent- up feelings about the Cooper incident and finally decided to let them out after a physical confrontation with the 6-foot-3 wide receiver.
Cooper tried to sweep the confrontation with Williams under the rug after practice.
"Both wanting the ball," he said. "There was nothing. We both went to the ground. There was a lot of contact at the top of the round. Nothing happened."
Cooper, in a remarkable display of naivete, said he could not understand why anyone would think his scrum with Williams was anything more than a typical day at practice.
"We were both playing NFL football," he said. "We were both playing one-on-one, going for the ball, got tangled up and we're both super-competitive. He's a great player and it is what it is."
It appeared to be something a lot more than that to Williams. He didn't want to let it go after the initial altercation and he didn't want to talk about it after practice.
And the worms ate into the team.
Contact Bob Brookover at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @brookob.