PHILADELPHIA -- Time will tell.
It took the Philadelphia Eagles four days to decide to bring back wide receiver Riley Cooper from a mutually agreed-upon leave of absence after news broke that Cooper used a racial slur toward an African-American security guard at a Kenny Chesney concert in June. Four days. It will take longer to know for sure whether those four days was enough time to heal deep wounds and to let the bad feelings on such a divisive issue as racism subside.
Four days? I have serious doubts.
It was risky for Chip Kelly to decide to bring Cooper back, and ultimately, in time, after the inevitable adversity of the regular season hits, it could prove to be foolish. The players can say what they want now, about how they forgive and can move on for the greater good of the team, but wait and see how they feel in October if the team comes off a three-game road trip and is looking at a 1-5 record. Some players can be happy that Cooper caught a "touchdown" pass in a joint practice with the New England Patriots on Tuesday, but what happens if he shrinks in the spotlight of a regular-season game in a starting role he has never been able to earn and has been given only after the man in front of him (Jeremy Maclin) went down with an injury?
Then we'll know. Then the real feelings will come out. That time is bound to come, and then we'll know for sure how black players really feel about a white teammate calling another black man the N-word when he thought no one except his white friends was looking.
As it is now, the Eagles are just trying to get to their first preseason game on Friday against the Patriots. They're trying to build. They're trying to learn. They're trying to come together as a team. They're trying to figure out their identity, trying to see who can lead and who play quarterback.
And the players who have been in Philadelphia for at least the past two seasons are trying to get to a point where they can have success again. They don't want to endure another 4-12 season. They don't want to miss the playoffs yet again. They want to be better than the 12-20 record they had in Andy Reid's last two seasons in Philly.
The players want to taste success, and even though Cooper hasn't caught even 50 passes in his three-year career, the Eagles are better with him than without him. Wideout Jason Avant has reliable hands and doesn't shy from contact over the middle, but he can't play on the outside. Other than rookie Russell Shepard, who has talent and potential but zero NFL experience, Philadelphia doesn't have a viable option opposite DeSean Jackson.
The Eagles lost another wide receiver, Arrelious Benn, to a torn ACL in practice Tuesday. They need Cooper, who has size and is a good blocker and has caught five touchdown passes in his career.
This is about winning football games, plain and simple. For now, it seems, the players can swallow their personal feelings about Cooper for the greater good of the team. For now.
Not that we know how LeSean McCoy, Michael Vick or Cary Williams feels about Cooper's return. They didn't speak to the media after practice. Prior to Cooper's leave of absence, Vick told me there were guys on the team who were really "hurting." Williams told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Cooper situation "supersedes the season." McCoy told CSNPhilly.com that he could not respect Cooper and that Cooper "said how he felt."
Four days later, it is hard to believe that much has changed.
Kelly, Cooper and the Eagles were in full damage control Tuesday. They could have spared themselves having to go through this exercise twice by realizing the severity of the situation initially and not allowing Cooper to practice this past Thursday. Nevertheless, Cooper again faced the music, answered questions and apologized. It was the right thing to do, but he didn't have to do it, so he is to be commended for that.
But Cooper blew off a question about whether he would curb his alcohol use; he admitted to using the racial slur after drinking heavily. And Kelly said that he decided after speaking to Cooper on Monday night that Cooper was ready to rejoin the team. It wasn't that the team was ready to have Cooper return; Cooper was ready to come back.
"I think our team is extremely close," Kelly said. "I think we have a great sense of understanding of everybody that's around each other. There's been great open communication between ourselves and our players and our coaches as this whole thing transpired. So I'll continue to talk to them. I think some leadership has emerged and certain guys that have really stepped up. I kind of lean on them a little bit, DeMeco Ryans and Jason [Avant] and people like that that get the pulse of the team in the locker room."
That sounds great, and Ryans and Avant are terrific guys, but they weren't strong enough leaders a year ago to keep the team from quitting on Reid.
Time will tell if the Eagles can avert a similar disaster. Time will tell if Kelly made the right decision, if his players actually are over the hurt of a teammate using a racial slur. That's the beauty of this. Regardless of what the team says now, at some point time will tell what is fact and what is convenient fiction.