Riley Cooper screwed up, plain and simple. He used a derogatory term, meant to dehumanize black human beings. The incident of him using the slur at a concert last month was captured on camera, and exposed this week.
Cooper is not the only professional athlete to get caught using unacceptable, dehumanizing language directed towards some subset of the population in the last several years.
In 2003, Lakers' center Shaquille O'Neal mocked Yao Ming's Chinese heritage, using language representative of ignorant stereotypes of Asian languages.
In 2011, Shaq's former teammate Kobe Bryant used a homophobic slur, directed towards a ref.
Earlier this year, San Fransisco 49ers player Chris Culliver was openly hostile to the gay community. During the Super Bowl Media Days, Culliver made it clear that he would not accept gay players in the NFL, saying "We don't have any gays on the team. They gotta get up out of here if they do. Can't be with that sweet stuff."
Each of those instances spawned a deserved backlash against the athlete who made the comments.
The reaction to Riley Cooper's unacceptable use of the N-word, however, has gone well past what Shaq, Kobe, Jackson or Culliver experienced.
Cooper has been fined by his team and excused from the team while he goes through sensitivity training. Similar steps were taken with the other aforementioned athletes who used derogatory language. The similarities between Cooper's punishment and their punishments ends there, however.
There has been a level of outrage and a thirst for vengeance in Cooper's case that far exceeds anything Shaq, Kobe, Jackson and Culliver were subjected to.
The mayor of Philadelphia, Michael A. Nutter, used his position to push for even more punishments against Cooper, saying, "This incident is a disgrace, and cannot be excused by just paying a fine." Nutter went on to push for the suspension and possible firing of Cooper.
Eagles teammate LeSean McCoy said that he lost respect for Cooper and no longer considers him a friend.
ESPN commentator Michael Wilbon said that he is angry at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for not taking league-wide action against Cooper, despite the fact that the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it clear that action in these sort of circumstances is solely up to the player's team, with the league having no ability to pass punishment on Riley Cooper.
In a vacuum, these comments may seem perfectly fine. However, when compared with the reaction to the aformentioned examples of other players making unacceptable remarks, the comments of Nutter, McCoy and Wilbon are blatantly hypocritical and present a clear double standard.
Nutter never advocated for the suspension and firing of DeSean Jackson when he made equally unacceptable comments to Cooper's, despite the fact that Nutter was also the mayor of Philly at the time and Jackson was playing for the Eagles. Nutter didn't comment on the matter at all.
McCoy had no issues respecting or being friends with Jackson after his gay slurs, or accepting Michael Vick as a teammate after his time spent in prison for horrific animal abuse.
Wilbon never became furious at NBA Commissioner David Stern for not taking action against Shaq after his remarks which were offensive to Asians.
So why are Nutter, McCoy, Wilbon and countless others so willing to dismiss or overlook the mistakes of Jackson, Culliver, Kobe and Shaq while angrily insisting that there is no redemption for Riley Cooper, that he screwed up so bad that he can never fix it?
Quite frankly, it's because Cooper's remarks hit closer to home than the others. Nutter, McCoy and Wilbon are all black themselves.
People are usually quite willing to forgive and move on, right up until the point where they themselves are the ones who are offended or feel personally attacked by unacceptable comments. Then, they call for the offender's blood because they were personally affected.
It's understandable that Nutter, McCoy, Wilbon and the over 70 percent of total NFL players who are also black are more offended by Cooper's comments than they were by Jackson's or Culliver's. They were affected personally in a way by Cooper's comments that they weren't by Jackson's or Culliver's. However, that doesn't make their treatment of Cooper any more acceptable.
If we as a sports culture had set a precedent for holding athletes 100 percent accountable and ostracizing them and jeopardizing their careers for making unacceptable remarks that hurt a subset of society, then the reaction to Cooper's inexcusable use of the N-word would be acceptable. That's not the road we have chosen to go, however, and we can't just suddenly switch that because it was a comment offensive to the black community instead of the Asian or LGBT+ communities.
A clear precedent has been set, and holding Riley Cooper to a harsher standard because he was a white athlete dehumanizing the black community instead of a black athlete dehumanizing the Asian or LGBT+ communities is just plain wrong. Much like what Cooper did in the first place.
So it's time to quit crucifying Riley Cooper at a level beyond that which we have established as the appropriate punishment for this sort of offense. It's hypocritical and unacceptable. If we continue to treat Riley Cooper disproportionately harsh, we are just dehumanizing fellow human beings ourselves.
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