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Extra Points: Race is bigger than Riley Cooper

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A fine quickly turned into an indefinite leave Friday as the Philadelphia Eagles continued to deal with the distraction known as Riley Cooper.

Cooper, probably a fourth or fifth receiver on a good NFL team, became a national news story earlier this week when a cell phone video was released showing the University of Florida product uttering the n-word in a more than offensive way during a drunken rant at a Kenny Chesney concert back in June at Lincoln Financial Field.

Copper tried to get out in front of the brewing scandal by playing the contrite card.

"I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself," Cooper said after the video was released on a Philadelphia-based blog. "I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, to (team owner) Jeffrey Lurie, to (general manager) Howie Roseman and to my teammates.

"I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did was wrong and I will accept the consequences."

The original "consequences" were a fine, one described as a substantial amount by one NFL source, along with a stern talking to from team owner Jeffrey Lurie.

"We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper's words," Lurie said in a statement. "This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident."

If you thought that was going to be the end of this, however, you haven't been paying attention to the national narrative.

While some teammates supported Cooper, others wanted nothing to do with him after the scandal broke and more than one observer noticed he looked isolated at Thursday's practice, almost ostracized. Meanwhile, to sponsors and television people, who base their whole perspective on the perceptions of the general public, Cooper is now a pariah stamped with the one word possibly more powerful than the one he callously threw at an African-American security guard -- racist.

An immature act by an occified 25-year-old man quickly morphed into something so toxic the Birds, despite being woefully thin at the wide receiver position after Jeremy Maclin's ACL injury, sent Cooper packing.

"As we have said, Riley Cooper will be seeking counseling and we have excused him from all team activities," the team said in a statement. "This is all new territory and we are going to evaluate this timetable every step of the way. He will meet with professionals provided by the Eagles during this period of time to better help him understand how his words have hurt so many, including his teammates."

Copper, meanwhile, continued to delve into crisis management 101, again professing disgust for his own actions and a desire to enter counseling. He also embraced his banishment with the only thing missing a ceremony as he was set adrift.

"The last few days have been incredibly difficult for me. My actions were inexcusable, Cooper said. "The more I think about what I did, the more disgusted I get. I keep trying to figure out how I could have said something so repulsive, and what I can do to make things better.

"Right now, I think it's important for me to take some time to reflect on this situation. The organization and my teammates have been extremely supportive, but I also realize that there are people who will have a tough time forgiving me for what I've done. The best thing for me, and for the team, is to step away for a period of time.

"During this time I'm going to be speaking with a variety of professionals to help me better understand how I could have done something that was so offensive, and how I can start the healing process for everyone. As long as it takes, and whatever I have to do, I'm going to try to make this right."

Sending Cooper home was probably a prudent decision by the Eagles considering the New England Patriots are set to invade South Philly next week for a series of practices in advance of the preseason opener for both clubs on August 9 at the Linc.

Can you imagine that scenario if Cooper was still around?

Philly writers bombarding the Pats about Aaron Hernandez and Boston scribes hammering Chip Kelly and Company with Cooper queries. Talk about pitching the Big Top. That's a circus that makes everyone look bad with Urban Meyer probably squirming the most somewhere in Columbus while thinking about the wretches he sent to the NFL.

There is a bigger issue here, though, and hopefully one we can all address once the torches and pitchforks recede a bit.

Since I'm not a African American, I don't feel comfortable telling a race of people to ignore an issue they might feel passionate about. What I am able to say unequivocally is that a word only has power if you allow it to have power and we as a society have given the word Cooper used far too much potency and authority during a time of substantial progress in race relations.

While I'm keenly aware that some African-Americans will decry my right to even chime in on this subject, understand that's a straw man argument and one that needs to put away for good if we ever hope to grow together.

Hindsight will inevitably record Riley Cooper as nothing more than a footnote in Eagles history. Perhaps, though, his actions can finally spark some serious debate on a subject far too many of us are afraid to tackle.

08/02 13:38:50 ET

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