Make no mistake about it. Eagles receiver Riley Cooper was caught in a swamp of stupid when a video of him berating an African-American security guard at a concert surfaced last week.
Like many, I wrestled with whether his comment was blatantly prejudice. He used the “n word,” an ugly, unseemly adjective that I wish would be never uttered again. Something makes me think that won’t happen, however. It’s a frequently used term in rap music, and it’s exchanged between African-American friends, almost as a feeling of endearment. That’s a far cry from the slavery-infused context in which it was used before school desegregation and equal opportunity laws.
Cooper was not among friends
An apparently inebriated Cooper used the negative racial term outside of the locker room and in a manner that sounded angry and aggressive toward a man who was simply trying to do his job.
As former Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer, Gary Ellerson said on a Milwaukee radio show that he co-hosts, we don’t know what’s in Cooper’s heart. Is Cooper a racist, hateful individual? He says no, and many other African-American journalists and athletes said they believe him. Others suggested that he should have been dismissed from the Eagles squad immediately.
We can’t fix stupid; we can only hope to contain it
One thing Cooper is guilty of is being an idiot in public. Regardless of what you think about why Cooper used the word, there are two things we know for sure: he lashed out at a man who was doing a job, and there was no thought involved in the statement. Is Cooper racist? I don’t know. I do know that we can educate people about those who are different from us, and show that we’re not as different from one another than some think. We cannot legislate heart, though. We don’t know what’s in Cooper’s.
Eagles make PR moves
The day the video went viral the Eagles fined Cooper who apologized publicly and to his team. Immediate discipline would seem to stem a public-relations storm … but not really. Eagles teammates reportedly and anonymously complained to reporters and within hours, there were rumors of dissent in the locker room. Whether it’s true or reports pressured the Eagles to take additional measures, the 25-year-old was dismissed from the team and sent to what is said to be counseling.
Five PR fails in Cooper’s public outburst
Most of us live on the fringes and can only speculate about why Cooper used objectionable language in public. What we do know is that it’s bad for his and the Eagles’ image. He broke a boatload of rules in the Sports PR bible.
So Cooper doesn’t make the same mistake twice or another athlete follows suit, I’ve identified five PR don’ts when it comes to going out in public whether it’s to a Kenny Chesney concert or picking up milk from the grocery store:
1) Remember that wherever you go, there is ALWAYS a camera. Assume that audio/video is rolling.
2) THINK. If you’re so inebriated that you can’t think straight, you shouldn’t be out in public anyway. Consider everything thing that comes out of your mouth, whether in the locker room or out. Someone is listening and wants to bring you down. Yes, it could be your own brother.
3) Team ownership and coaching staff must instill the importance of trust and privacy in the locker room. It’s difficult during NFL training camps because there are a lot of new faces and personalities, but as a coach and GM, it must be instilled the day that guys report for camp.
4) Don’t be stupid. That more or less goes along with No. 2, but it sums up the main point. Be an adult. You can act like a goofball in the privacy of a locker room, but once you step outside that door, the world is watching. You wear the reputation of your family, team and league wherever you go as long as you wear a team jersey. If you don’t care about your own image, consider those of the people who sign your check and whose name you share.
5) Be nice. As Yahoo’s Dan Wetzel wrote, one human being treated another who was trying to do his job like trash, and it was captured on video. NO ONE deserves to be treated like Cooper spoke to the gentleman that worked concert security one night in June. Karma is alive and well. And it’s so much more pleasant to treat others with respect than to disrespect someone who is simply trying to do his job.