Chip Kelly created this perception of himself as a racist. People who speak up on Kelly’s behalf say he had no history of racism before becoming head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, and all of the accusations since are misunderstandings or players with an axe to grind. Perhaps they are right, but this all began with Kelly’s handling of Riley Cooper‘s n-bomb drop at a Kenny Chesney concert on June 9, 2013 (NSFW clip of Cooper’s racist comment here). Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles did not push to cut Cooper from the team which led to inevitable tensions within the team.
Hate it or not, sometimes ESPN’s First Take hits the nail right on the head.
“What did I say the day after this broke, August the first, after the video went viral of Riley Cooper at the country western concert? Yelling the n-world, plural, “I’ll fight all (omits n-word).” I said that he should be cut today for two reasons. The bigger societal reason and a team reason, a team unity reason… They needed to cut him for a football reason on a much more minor level, but a key one to the football team, that is locker room unity. I always express to you, unity is much more in football than even baseball or certainly basketball. And in this case, this will fester, this will bubble under the surface.”
September 6, 2013, Skip Bayless, First Take
Cooper received an undisclosed fine and counseling from the Eagles and no fine or suspension from the NFL. Interesting. Donald Sterling lost ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers without uttering the n-word in a racist rant, and Hulk Hogan has been officially scrubbed from WWE for using the n-word in a cruel manner. Sterling and Hogan were caught in private conversations saying ugly things. Cooper screamed, “I will fight every n-word here,” at a public Kenny Chesney concert to show off in front of his buddies. Even with the context of each discretion in mind, there’s something more troubling for Cooper’s case once you consider the excitement, brashness, and malice in his public display of racism. He’s so proud of himself for having the courage to say it aloud at Lincoln Financial Field, home field of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Cooper got more targets on the field in the 2013 season than ever thanks to Jeremy Maclin (the team’s number two receiver at the time) suffering a torn ACL before the season began. Cooper took advantage of those padded numbers to receive a 5-year, $25 million deal on February 26, 2014. Professional football teams rarely give middling wide receivers exorbitant contracts that cost the team money if they cut the player, certainly not to a replaceable, controversial locker room presence. But that’s what they did with Cooper.
On March 29, 2014 (a little more than a month after signing Cooper to a huge raise), DeSean Jackson was released by the Philadelphia Eagles after the team anonymously expressed “concerns” about Jackson’s ties to gang members. Here is the bombshell headline by NJ.com.
All of a sudden DeSean Jackson had to do image rehabilitation (glasses apparently make black men less threatening) for something the Eagles concocted out of nowhere. The team could easily have released him without mentioning alleged gang ties, and also have no history of dishing this kind of dirt on players who leave before Kelly became the head coach. People who actually committed crimes were receiving far less scrutiny than Jackson simply to justify cutting him. It was totally unnecessary and incredibly strange considering the way they protected Cooper after his public racist comments. Additionally, Jackson is without a doubt one of the ten best wide receivers in the world. Why cut Jackson and keep Cooper?
Kelly defenders always return to this idea that Kelly wants people on the team of “high character and intellect.” Obviously, Cooper’s behavior at the concert doesn’t exhibit high character. Keeping Cooper is a constant jibe to other players on the team because he is the outlier. Two years ago, the Eagles had DeSean Jackson (released), LeSean McCoy (traded), and Jeremy Maclin (unsigned), each of whom are elite players at their position. All of those players are gone. Many black players have complained about Kelly’s treatment, attitude, and comfort level after they left the team including cornerback Brandon Boykin over the weekend after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cooper has not outperformed other Eagles wide receivers and is currently number two on the depth chart, behind a rookie and ahead of some dude even hardcore Eagles fans would be unable to name. Last season, Maclin came back from his ACL tear with 85 receptions, 1,318 yards, and 10 touchdowns. In the midst of his impressive comeback season, Cooper publicly complained about his dip in playing time by explaining that, “Maclin is trying to get a contract so he’s probably not going to try and come out of the game.” Three things.
- Players never get to decide how much playing time they get.
- The top players on the depth chart only come out for rest.
- Why was Cooper commenting on a teammate’s contract status (particularly when he only got his contract thanks to Maclin’s 2013 absence)? It’s a professional sports taboo perhaps only eclipsed by sleeping with a teammate’s significant other.
Maclin was understandably unhappy with Cooper’s comments, and Cooper responded later with this ironic statement.
Cooper: “I’m supposed to sub every 4,5 plays and that’s what I do. Maclin, I guess, is a lot better player than me, so he doesn’t have to.”
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) November 25, 2014
Yeah, Maclin is a lot better. That’s why none of this makes sense. Kelly stripped the falsehood of meritocracy from the players, a true achievement by “the mad genius.” All of the criticism of Kelly comes back to the decision to coddle Riley Cooper regardless of performance, behavior, or attitude. The optics should be abominable to everyone, but somehow the outrage has been framed as a black-only problem. I tweeted this half-joking but the issue keeps coming up for a reason.
@BallerMindFrame This Chip Kelly thing is getting a little Cosby-ish. How many will it take to speak up before we think something is wrong?
— aaron lanton (@alanton11) August 2, 2015
We can call Kelly’s handling of Cooper a whole lot of things but we can’t call it fair. If that’s going too far, I don’t know what to tell you.