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Monday, August 5, 2013
W Debate: Did punishment fit the crime?

espnW.com

Question: Is a fine and counseling enough punishment for Eagles receiver Riley Cooper, who used a racial slur?

Sarah Spain: As far as the NFL and the Eagles are concerned, I believe a fine and counseling is a suitable punishment for Cooper. He didn't break any laws, didn't take any illegal or banned substances and didn't cause any bodily harm to himself or others. The steps the team has taken to punish Cooper are the right ones. The fine (which was reportedly a hefty one) is a message to all players that his actions won't be condoned, and the counseling he's receiving is the only way to try to convince teammates, coaches and fans that he's willing to change.

While I believe the punishment is suitable, that doesn't mean I think a fine and some counseling will erase the effects of Cooper's insensitive and offensive remarks. While his "crime" isn't legally as reprehensible as, say, a marijuana arrest, which do you think his teammates care about more? I also don't think counseling will cure him if he is, at his core, a racist. When he returns from a week or two off, do you really expect the guys who line up alongside him to accept him as a changed man?

Riley Cooper
Regardless of his punishment, will Riley Cooper ever be able to convince his teammates he's changed?

So, Kate, while the punishment may technically fit the crime, is the more important question really whether the punishment can fix the crime?

Kate Fagan: I don't think this is going to end well for Cooper. I just don't see how he returns to being a productive member of the Eagles, as if his teammates (and the city) are going to welcome him back into the fold as if he was fined for being late to a team meeting. I really think this whole thing is going to keep snowballing, especially after the comments made on Sunday night by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who said that if Cooper were his employee, he would either suspend or terminate him. Philly has had some struggles around race relations in recent years (see the outrage over this cover of Philadelphia magazine), and I can easily see how this incident will become a flash point for the city to keep talking about race. It's possible, likely even, that the ongoing discussion will culminate with Cooper losing his job.

To this point, I believe the Eagles have handled the situation well, but the question you raise is an important one. Will this change Cooper's thinking? He's only 25 years old. This very well could be the eye-opening moment for him, when he realizes how hurtful that word is, how much history is behind it and that it's not a throwaway insult -- no matter how many beers you've had at a Kenny Chesney concert. If this moment can't fix Cooper's thinking, nothing can.

SS: I want to believe that education can reform people who were raised to be bigoted (or somehow adopted that outlook early in life), but in this case I have a hard time doing so. Cooper is an adult who has spent most of his life surrounded by teammates of all different races and backgrounds. He can't blame his comments on age, isolation or ignorance. As you said, racial epithets are not throwaway words that just pop out when you get blasted; Cooper's use of the N-word indicates a deep-rooted issue. I also don't believe he needed this to happen to understand the significance of the word and the ramifications of using it. I think he's merely learning what it feels like to get caught.

Most people, myself included, agree with you that this situation will continue to fester until Cooper is no longer on the Eagles, but it seems we both also believe that the Eagles have been fair in their punishment. How do those two beliefs reconcile themselves? Will it be Cooper himself who quits the team as the isolation in the locker room gets harder and harder to handle? Or will the Eagles consider the fines and counseling to be the punishment for the act itself, and a dismissal from the team a punishment for the aftermath of it?

KF: I think that last sentence is right on. The Eagles have issued a punishment for using a racial slur, and I think they'll eventually dismiss him from the team because he will have become a distraction. If, for some reason, this whole situation with Cooper had blown over quickly -- his teammates embracing him again, for whatever reasons, and no further outcry from the city -- then I believe he would have gone back to playing for the Eagles this season.

So far, the Eagles have responded only to the act itself. Soon, they'll have to respond to how that act has affected the chemistry within their team and also the chemistry between the team and the city.