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PHILADELPHIA -- Riley Cooper said his scuffle with Eagles teammate Cary Williams at practice was "nothing," just two competitive teammates trying for the same football.
Williams said nothing. The veteran cornerback declined to talk to the media after his practice scuffle with Cooper.
|Michael Vick had to hold back Cary Williams from Riley Cooper during a scuffle at Thursday's practice.|
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy probably said it best: "Any time there's something extra on the field with Riley and another teammate or an opponent, that's the first thing that's going to come up -- especially if the guy's black."
That is the situation the Eagles find themselves in five weeks after a video surfaced on the Internet of Cooper using an offensive racial insult. The team decided not to release or suspend the fourth-year wide receiver. Cooper was fined, apologized to his teammates and took a brief leave of absence to seek counseling.
Cooper told reporters that Thursday's incident had nothing to do with his use of a racial slur at a concert in June, and said Williams didn't mention it.
An unnamed player, however, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that Williams shouted, "I'm not a n----- you mess with" several times.
That certainly indicates this episode was related to Cooper's public slur. Williams was one of the African-American teammates who expressed reservations about sharing a locker room with a player caught using the "N-word" in public.
Using the word himself also contradicts something else Williams said after Cooper's slur became known.
"I think there's no place for that word in anybody's language," Williams had told reporters. "It's still the same meaning, it's still a harsh word. ... I think that's one thing we have to work on as a community as far as black people and just taking it out of our vocabulary."
As for dealing with Cooper, Williams had said: "It's tough to get through, and I don't know him. But I did see the tape and it's disheartening for a guy to say something like that. I mean you're angry, but I just feel like it's several other words or things he could have said. He used something that was just over the top."
Since then, the focus has been on moving forward and preparing for Chip Kelly's first season as head coach. Kelly said he knew the issue wouldn't disappear immediately, but hoped it would gradually fade away.
It flared up Thursday morning. During one-on-one drills, Cooper was matched up with Williams. Michael Vick threw a fade. Both men went up for it. There was contact in the air and after they landed in a heap.
"We got tangled up going for the ball," Cooper said. "We both ended up on the ground -- which you don't want to do in practice, especially in the season. No one wants to end up on the ground going for a ball because that's when injuries happen."
Both Cooper and Williams came up angry, locking arms and trying to find an opening. Williams threw several punches as teammates, notably cornerback Brandon Boykin, tried to break it up.
"Stuff like that happens every single day," Boykin said. "It just so happened that you guys were there to see it."
Fighting isn't going to win us the game Monday night. That's the biggest thing. We've got to play a game Monday night. Practicing and doing things together with camaraderie is what we need, not the opposite, with people fighting.” -- DeSean Jackson
As Cooper walked away, Williams shook free and threw his helmet on the ground. He started after Cooper, shouting. For most, his words were drowned out by the deafening music Kelly favors during practice. Vick grabbed hold of Williams' shoulder pads and eventually succeeded in calming his teammate down.
Vick was ushered out of the locker room by public relations staffers after practice. The Philadelphia Daily News, however, caught up to him.
"I try to be the peacemaker," Vick told the newspaper, "but these young dudes don't respect me. Our maturity level's got to be on a whole different plane. Regardless of who the catalyst was for the whole fight, that doesn't matter. We've got to be men. We're not guys who are out on the street, fighting one another. We're teammates ... It's game week. We don't have time for that. I don't. It's a distraction."
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who talked to both Cooper and Williams on the field immediately after the scuffle, said he stressed the same message as Vick.
"Fighting isn't going to win us the game Monday night," Jackson said. "That's the biggest thing. We've got to play a game Monday night. Practicing and doing things together with camaraderie is what we need, not the opposite, with people fighting."
Williams has a history of on-field incidents. He was fined twice last season, while playing for the Baltimore Ravens, for extracurricular behavior. He and Jackson were fined $10,000 for after-the-whistle shoving in a game between the Ravens and Eagles. Williams was fined $15,750 for a late hit against Denver. He was also caught shoving an official in the Super Bowl.
Just last month, Williams was tossed out of a joint practice session with the Patriots for getting into a facemask-grabbing tussle with a Patriots wide receiver.
"He tries to annoy receivers," Jackson said. "We have to show we're tough, too."