The Sports Bad Behavior Double Standard, which gives good players a second chance and makes an example out of scrubs, has its limits. We saw it in June with Aaron Hernandez. And we’re seeing it in August, potentially, with Hernandez’s college teammate, Riley Cooper.
The disconnect regarding Cooper was obvious from the outset of the controversy. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said the Eagles were “shocked and appalled” by Cooper’s use of the worst possible racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert — so shocked and appalled that the Eagles imposed an undisclosed fine on Cooper.
That’s not how it works in non-sports industries. In Cooper’s case, it may not be the last move the team makes.
The buzzword of the 2013 offseason became “distraction.” Gay NFL players stay closeted in part because they don’t want to create a distraction for the team. And no team was interested in trading with the Jets for Tim Tebow and only one wanted to sign him because, thanks to a legion of fans who demand to see him play, Tebow is a distraction.
Riley Cooper, in less than 48 hours, has become a major distraction for the Eagles.
The distraction doesn’t simply come from the outside, with reporters asking everyone in the locker room for their opinion about Cooper — just as reporters will ask everyone in the locker room for their opinion the first NFL player who declares himself to be openly gay. The distraction as to Cooper also comes from within, and it seems to be getting worse, not better.
Ashley Fox of ESPN.com paints a compelling picture regarding the inevitability of Cooper’s exit from the Eagles. On last night’s edition of Pro Football Talk on NBCSN, Tim McManus of 97.5 The Fanatic said that the team may still dump Cooper. Derrick Gunn of CSN Philly explained separately in the show that, if receiver Jeremy Maclin hadn’t torn an ACL over the weekend, Cooper already would be gone.
The Eagles initially erred on the side of keeping Cooper because it’s always better to give your own player the second chance he may find elsewhere — as the Eagles learned the hard way 23 years ago when they gave up on a wideout who’ll be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night.
In Cooper’s case, the Eagles likely are realizing that’s not a concern. If the only locker room he’s known ends up rejecting him, no other locker room will accept him.
Maybe, in the end, that’s why the Eagles are trying to find a way to move forward. Maybe Lurie, G.M. Howie Roseman, and coach Chip Kelly realize that cutting Cooper won’t pave the way for a second chance with another team. It’ll grease the skids for his permanent exit from the NFL.