It was revealed in a piece by Ian O'Connor of ESPN New York that Riley Cooper had become a "pariah" among his teammates in training camp last season. He was a knockout target for teammates, and ate meals by himself, but not in the humorous "Nnamdi Asomugha alone in his car" sort of way. This was of course in the wake of the video that emerged of Cooper spewing racial slurs at a Kenny Chesney concert.
The man who helped save the team from crumbling, according to Michael Vick, was Michael Vick. Per O'Connor's piece:
After Cooper apologized to teammates who weren't in the mood to hear it, rookie coach Chip Kelly addressed his players about a problem he couldn't attack with X's and O's. Kelly asked the Eagles if any of them wanted to speak; Cooper wasn't in the room.
"Nobody had anything to say," Vick recalled. "Everybody had kind of a dumbfounded look on their faces. ... I just felt like something needed to be said at that point, and Chip kind of gave me a look like, 'Mike, come on. Give me something.'"
Vick has long had the respect and admiration of his younger teammates, who grew up watching Vick's explosive style at Virginia Tech, in Atlanta with the Falcons, and in their living rooms using him in their video games. In Vick's mind, he was therefore in the best position to step up and be the one to most effectively diffuse the situation.
"I just felt like I was the most capable guy on that team of taking a stand for Riley, and being a voice for him at that time," Vick said. Without taking that stand and being that voice, Vick maintained, the video of Cooper's racial slur "was going to derail our team. Unfortunately, it was going to derail Riley's career. It would have ended his career."
According to Vick, his loyalty to Cooper did not go over well with some teammates initially, but they eventually understood Vick's motivations.
"They might not have forgotten about it, but they forgave him," Vick said. "We had guys talking about knocking him out, taking his head off, doing X, Y and Z to him on the field, and none of that happened, out of respect for myself, I think.
"What people of my race understood was that I was trying to protect one of my brothers. I was trying to protect a teammate, a friend, and at the same time letting them know that, 'Listen, there's education behind this. This can be taken as an opportunity to educate so many people around the world to never let this happen to you. Change the language. Use a different word ... because you never know who's watching or who's listening. So don't offend anybody.'"
Cooper and Vick will be on the field together Thursday night, although Cooper will not play. Vick revealed that he is upset that Cooper has not returned Vick's attempts to communicate with him.
"A couple of things transpired since [the incident] that I dislike, and I'll be honest with you," Vick said. "After he signed his contract, I sent him a text and I never got a text back, and that made me feel a certain type of way. But I'm not the type of guy who holds grudges."
"I'd have you on speed dial. That's the only reason I say I hope Riley appreciates that. His life is his life and he played good football last year, and he was always like a little brother to me. But money should never change an individual, and I'm not saying it did that to Riley."
Michael Vick finished second in MVP voting after an incredible 2010 season, and he led one of the most amazing comebacks in the history of the NFL in the Miracle at the Meadowlands Game that same year. Throughout his career, he has produced one of the most impressive highlight reels in the history of the game. And yet, Vick considers what he did in the wake of the Riley Cooper video to be the best thing he's ever accomplished as a pro.
"It's the best thing I've done as a professional athlete, absolutely," Vick said. "I handled it so my team could move forward, and I handled it so people could forget about it and not look at Riley a certain kind of way. I changed the whole dynamic of that situation, and that was a proud moment for me. ... I was able to save a young man's career, and that young man went on to have the greatest year of his career and get a contract that he probably never imagined he would get."
Michael Vick came to Philly as a pariah himself, and left a mature figure who had won over a significant portion of a fan base that was initially unwilling to accept him. Be sure to check out O'Connor's piece in full.
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