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Monday, March 8, 2021

Riley Cooper and The Value of Forgiveness

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

Riley Cooper stood in front of his bosses and apologized, then he stood in front of the media and apologized and then, most importantly, he stood in front of his teammates and apologized. But even though he seemed sincere in his contrition, this is something that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Is Riley Cooper racist? I don’t know him well enough to say one way or the other, but there’s certainly no excuse for the racial slur he used at a recent Kenny Chestnut concert when he was denied backstage access by an African-American security guard, a slur that was captured on somebody’s cell phone camera and revealed to the world this week when it went viral.

Equally as disturbing was that fact that Cooper was violent and was ready to hit somebody. Cooper was obviously at least somewhat drunk when he said what he said and did what he did, but, to his credit, he said that was no excuse and he’s correct.

But what struck me the most about this regrettable incident was the reaction from some of Cooper’s Eagles’ teammates, most notably quarterback Michael Vick and wide receiver Jason Avant, two of the veteran leaders of this team and two players who know Cooper better than most. Both stressed one thing – forgiveness.

That doesn’t mean they like what Cooper said or how he said it and there are doubtlessly other African-Americans on the Eagles who will never forgive or forget what their teammate said. But certainly those two players – both avowed Christians – know what it’s like to sin and to seek forgiveness. Both did things in their pasts that they regret and both have moved on and done positive things with their lives and that’s why their opinions matter so much.

Vick’s case, of course, is well known. He served almost two years in a federal penitentiary for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring, where it was revealed that Vick cold-heartedly killed dogs that were not strong enough or vicious enough to fight other dogs. That’s much worse than name-calling, even the despicable kind of name-calling in which Cooper engaged.

I was appalled when the Eagles signed Vick after his release from prison in 2009. But even though I still have trouble understanding how any human being could do such terrible things, I also acknowledge that Vick has been a solid citizen since then and has done much good going to schools and youth groups to talk about his past. Even though I never bought into the “I made a mistake’’ excuse – just like I don’t buy it from Cooper or any of the athletes who have been caught using performance-enhancing drugs – I admire the way Vick has turned his life around and turned a negative into a positive.

As for Avant, anyone who has been around him for any length of time would be stunned to find out that this soft-spoken, born-again Christian used to run with gangs and deal drugs in his native Chicago. Avant was on a one-way road to self-destruction before he found spiritual refuge in Jesus Christ and he’s never forgotten his roots. He leads the Eagles’ Bible study group and often talks to youth groups about the dangers of life in the streets. And, like Vick, he needed other people to forgive him before he could move on with his life and help other people with theirs.

So, it meant something when Vick and Avant spoke up for their teammate. They were stunned and appalled at what he said, but they also understand the value of forgiveness. And they realize that, ultimately, a much greater power will judge Riley Cooper.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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