PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles excused Riley Cooper from all team activities on Friday as the wide receiver deals with repercussions of being caught on video making a racial slur.
Cooper has been sent away from the team to get help with his issues, something the player and the team agreed upon. Coach Chip Kelly made it clear after Friday’s practice, however, that Cooper would be back with the team when he’s ready.
“There has never been any question of cutting Riley,” Kelly said. “His status with us is not in question.”
Cooper said the last few days have been incredibly difficult and he will step away to seek counseling.
“My actions were inexcusable,” he 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.”
Cooper apologized profusely Wednesday after a video of him using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert last month surfaced on the Internet. The Eagles immediately fined him.
“Right now, I think it’s important for me to take some time to reflect on this situation,” Cooper said. “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.”
The Eagles did not set a timetable for Cooper’s return. The team is off Saturday. They will return Sunday and then will host the New England Patriots on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before playing the Patriots, Friday night in the preseason opener.
“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,” the team said in a statement.
Cooper spoke to the media again after practice Thursday, telling them his meeting with teammates a night earlier was “extremely emotional.” Teammates Michael Vick, Jason Avant and others expressed forgiveness for Cooper. LeSean McCoy also said he forgives Cooper, but “I can’t really respect somebody like that.”
Cooper, who grew up in Clearwater, Fla., was selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft by the Eagles out of the University of Florida. He has just 46 catches and five touchdowns in three years with the Eagles, but has been practicing with the starters since Jeremy Maclin’s season-ending knee injury last week.
“As long as it takes, and whatever I have to do, I’m going to try to make this right,” Cooper said.
Players on the team continue to be asked about Cooper’s situation, making it a distraction or as wide receiver DeSean Jackson called it, “a burden.” Cornerback Cary Williams, a free agent addition to the Eagles this past offseason, tried to put it all in the perspective.
“This is about history,” Williams said. “Some of us have had ancestors killed over that word. There is a lot of history behind it. That history needs to be addressed. I remember my grandmother telling me stories how she was called the n-word, while being bitten by dogs and hosed.
“Why did Riley say this? That’s a question that needs to be asked. I still think it is the elephant in the room.”
Williams also said it doesn’t matter who you are or what color you are the word should never be used.
“Nobody should say it,” he said. “I don’t care if you white, black, blue, green or purple. The hip-hop culture uses the word and has de-emphasized it. You need to go back and see what our ancestors did to try and rid themselves of that word.”
The Eagles do not plan to rid themselves of Cooper permanently. When he comes back, how will he be treated is the next question.
“He’s our teammate. He hasn’t been released from our team, so whatever he has to handle, he has to handle,” Jackson said. “As far as the rest of the team, we have to focus on what we want to accomplish this season and not let this be a burden.”
Vick, who has shown support for Cooper from the beginning, was asked what advice he would have for his teammate.
“Let this situation make me a better person,” the quarterback said. “This is a good thing for Coop to get away for a while and reflect. We’ve already put the plan in place to help him come back full form and become one of the guys again.”