Riley Cooper’s Mess Might Be Society’s Gain – Conversation Can Yield Wisdom

by Kent Sterling

Sorry isn't going to turn back the clock on this one.

Sorry isn’t going to turn back the clock on this one.

Riley Cooper did himself no favors when he threatened a black security guard while using the N-word at a Kenny Chesney concert in June, but the dialogue prompted by his idiocy is a very good thing.

I’ve heard more intelligent dialogue about racism over the last 36 hours as a result of the viral video of Cooper’s hateful and drunken shrieks than I have over the last 10 years.

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Racism is as moronic an impulse as humans are capable of attaching themselves to, and we aren’t terribly bright as a species, so some subscribe to it.  And despite popular theories to the contrary, it’s still widespread.

The difference between today and 40 years ago is that racism exists only among clusters of racists in the shadows.  There aren’t any David Dukes out there anymore talking about the absurd concept of white supremacy  Where the misplaced pride in believing one race or another is superior is gone, the belief is still there among many, and the evolution that relegated racism to backrooms and closets makes racists both idiotic and cowardly.

Cooper, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, has left the team to attend a franchise mandated dose of sensitivity training.  Let’s be honest about why.  It’s not so he learns to become more sensitive.  Cooper is gone because the silence prompted by his removal might diffuse the issue.

The media is a fickle beast, and what happens from month to month tends to fade as the next story of an athlete gone awry bubbles into the public’s consciousness, this mess will bubble right out.  That won’t happen for teammates, who will never look at Cooper the same way again.

And they shouldn’t.

All day today on 1070 the Fan, people wanted to talk about the racism that Cooper’s rant represented.  Some talk about the difference between ending the n-word with an ‘a’ and an ‘er’.  Some feel the the interpretation of the word is a generational issue.  Those who remember the teachings and assassination Martin Luther King and Medgar Evans, the lynchings of blacks and civil rights workers in Mississippi, Rosa Parks refusal to step to the back of the bus, and the segregated drinking fountains and restrooms throughout the south understand the n-word as one thing.  Younger people have a different historical perspective, and fail to allow the word to die.

The n-word might be the most evocative word in the English language.  The effects of its use cannot be undone.  For almost anything else in life, there is the possibility of sympathy and forgiveness.  The use of a word that drags with it such a historical virulence is inexcusable and unforgettable.

Cooper’s Eagles teammates may forgive, but they will never forget.  For eternity, he will be the guy who lost control of the dark part of his heart, and expressed a bitter hatred so cold that his performance recalls the very worst our memories can conjure of a time when hate was rampant and a significant and loud group in the south felt that blacks were subhuman.

With radio hosts as wise as Scott Van Pelt, Herm Edwards, Michael Grady, Dan Dakich, and Chris Hagan, today was a very good day for listeners looking for reasonable dialogue about a subject that can be flammable and divisive.  Radio can provide a community forum unlike any other medium.

The day will come where conversations about racism will be relegated to history classes, and that day will come because of days like today when those with a minuscule residue of hate in their hearts – and that’s most of us – listen to those who state the obvious – that racism is a moronic concept – in a new and persuasive way.

Cooper wasn’t briefly an idiot whose departure from reason was sadly caught on video.  He’s always been an idiot whose systemic hatred had never been betrayed.  The response will take us another step toward reason, but it will likely cost Cooper his career.

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