Riley Cooper: A Racist Remark, A Terrific Apology

Riley Cooper, a wide receiver with the Philadelphia Eagles, earned the critical glare of the media spotlight this week after a secretly recorded video emerged of him using racist language (Riley is white).

Cooper was attending a concert by country star Kenny Chesney and wanted to go backstage. The African American security guard wouldn’t let him pass through a checkpoint. And that’s when this happened:

“I will jump that fence and fight every ni*ger here, bro.”

Riley has rightly been blasted for his use of racist language (not to mention the threat of violence). And although I offer no excuses for his inappropriate and incendiary language, his reaction to this incident has been rock solid.

First, Cooper sent these tweets:

Riley Cooper Tweets

On Wednesday, he faced cameras and delivered this press conference:

Elements of a Good Apology

A good apology is one that is sincere, not contrived; is motivated by the right reasons, not by hope for personal gain; that demonstrates a genuine sense of remorse, not dismissiveness. A good apology conveys an unmistakable impression that the person understands their infraction and is genuinely committed to change.

Cooper succeeded on all of those counts.

He looked dismayed, ashamed, and pained during the press conference. He refused several opportunities to make excuses for his behavior, such as when he refused to go into details about what caused the confrontation or make his alcoholic consumption that night a reason for his behavior. After the press conference ended, he apologized to his teammates directly.

Some readers might conclude that he only apologized because he got caught and that his less guarded moment revealed more about his true character. But as someone who reviews a lot of apologies in these types of situations, this one struck me as sincere. I suspect this incident won’t have a devastating long-term effect on Cooper’s career.

Still, there’s a lesson here for all of us. As I’ve written so many times before on this blog, today’s media culture requires public figures (and the rest of us) to comport ourselves in public as if there’s always a camera filming us. In many cases, there is.

A grateful h/t to reader @DavidPetroff; Twitter screenshot from

Update: August 2, 2013, 3:45 p.m.

According to ESPN, Cooper’s teammates have not rallied around him, and this incident might cost him his job in Philadelphia. There’s also rampant speculation that some players around the league will make Cooper a “target” on the field by punishing him with particularly hard hits.

All of that may seem to contradict my point about the long-term impact this will have on his career, but that’s yet to be seen. Keep in mind that the NFL has welcomed back players involved in homicides, acts of violence, and dog fighting rings.

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