In this Sunday, July 28, 2013, photo, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper pauses during the NFL football team’s training camp in
In this Sunday, July 28, 2013, photo, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper pauses during the NFL football team's training camp in Philadelphia. Cooper has been fined by the team for making a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert that was caught on video, leading him to say he's "ashamed and disgusted" with himself. The video of Cooper making the slur surfaced Wednesday, July 31, on the Internet. (AP Photo/Michael Perez) (Michael Perez/AP)

Just as the furor about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case began to subside, along came Riley Cooper.

The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver, a four-year veteran, was having a great training camp when a video surfaced on Wednesday. It showed an obviously intoxicated Cooper at a June 8 Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field, his team's home, in a confrontation with an African-American security guard, vowing to “fight every n----- here.'

With that, Riley Cooper went from being a generally well thought of — if not major figure — in the National Football League to a symbol of racial insensitivity or worse.

That word, with its history of hurt, just isn't used these days in polite society. Especially by a public figure. Especially by a Caucasian public figure. If you doubt that, remember Paula Deen. The cooking maven saw her career wrecked earlier this year when she admitted, under oath in a lawsuit filed by a former employee, that she used that word — decades ago.

It doesn't fly any more.

Some Caucasians — especially those poor Christian Caucasian heterosexual men who are treated so unfairly in this world — are quick to point out that some African-Americans use the n-word freely in their own conversations and in their music. Guess what? It doesn't matter. They're entitled to it. End of conversation.


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Cooper and his franchise followed the generally accepted script when his transgression was revealed. There was the emotional press conference, where he seemed genuinely mortified and claimed that his behavior was out of character. “I'm extremely embarrassed, I'm extremely hurt, I'm extremely sorry for my actions,' Cooper said. “I'm willing to accept any consequences.'

There were the statements from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, general manager Howie Roseman and head coach Chip Kelly, expressing their revulsion. There was the announcement that Cooper would pay a substantial if unspecified fine, and the news Thursday that he would also undergo some sort of sensitivity training. “We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper's words,' Lurie said. “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.'

Even Chesney issued a statement calling Cooper's actions “hateful beyond words.'

But Cooper wasn't cut from the squad. Really, how could he be? As Daily Times sports writer Jack McCaffery notes in his column today, this is a team that has staked its reputation on giving players second chances. When the Eagles signed Michael Vick, who is African-American, after he served prison time for horrendous animal abuse, “everyone deserves a second chance' practically became the team slogan.

To his credit, Vick stood behind his embattled teammate during Cooper's darkest hour.

“Riley came to us as a man and apologized for what he did,' said Vick. “As a teammate I forgave him. As a team we forgave him. We understand the magnitude of this situation. We understand that a lot of people may be hurt and offended. But I know Riley Cooper. I know him as a man. And I know what type of person he is. That's what makes this easy. Hard to understand the situation but at the same time easy to forgive.'

Some teammates expressed reservations. LeSean McCoy, also African-American, said he had considered Cooper to be a friend and that the incident would be difficult to forget. “I don't think you can say something like that and everything will be the same,' said McCoy.

How and when this story will end, of course, isn't known. Can Cooper survive professionally in a league that is more than 67 percent African-American? That will be test for those players, one that will be watched closely.

What is clear is that the incident has once again opened the wound between the races that dates to this country's founding.

Slavery is America's original sin and racism was its root. Much progress and reconciliation have been made, especially in recent decades. A family of color lives in the White House. But the poison still festers, until it bubbles to the surface once again. Much work still has to be done.

Fortunately, this is a country that also was born to give people second chances. Forgiveness has always been one of its best qualities. It's one that is still desperately needed today.