I thought about writing something when Riley Cooper first made the news during the off-season. His name resurfaced in the news last week because of an altercation during practice, and I thought now might be a good time to write about it.
This piece is not to condemn or condone anything – just my explanation of how it happened. As a response to the people on the radio who were wondering “How can anyone in this day and age mess up so badly? I mean, everyone knows you just don’t say that.”
And to those of you who don’t know what’s going on, Riley Cooper is a player in the NFL. He is a white guy, and he went to a country-music concert and got somewhat intoxicated and got in trouble for yelling a bad word at a security guard, who is a black guy. The bad word in this case was a strong racial word. Mr. Cooper apologized for his speech and actions. End of synopsis.
I heard people wondering why he thought he could say that. Is he secretly racist? or was this just a slip-up?
I’m going to say he’s just a product of his culture.
The culture in this case is the NFL. It could apply to the NBA as well, but not the NHL (more on that later).
Let me use an analogy here. I’m going to use one even if you don’t let me.
Imagine you grow up in Michigan, then you move to Texas. Your accent is different from theirs. Theirs, of course, is funny, and you vow to yourself that you do not want to sound like them. So you make a conscious effort to avoid speaking like they do. You do fine for a few years, then one day when you are at a party with some of your Michigan friends, you let your guard down for one minute and some Texan-sounding speech slips out.
Does anyone blame you for sounding like a Texan? Or is it expected that, after a few years, you’ll have absorbed some of the culture around you?
That’s how I see the Riley Cooper incident. From my understanding, the black professional athletes toss around racist terms like candy at a parade. Only to each other, of course. A white guy like Cooper doesn’t participate in that, but it’s around him all the time – he is bound to hear that word every day. On the field, in the weight room, in the locker room.
Over the years, he has gradually absorbed some of that culture. Normally, he knows enough to restrain himself and not let that speech slip out. But it’s there in his subconscious. All it took was some alcohol to remove some of the restraint and bring the subconscious more to the forefront.
That’s my explanation. I’ll let other people debate the rightness and wrongness of the people involved.
I mentioned the NHL earlier, that an athlete there wouldn’t get into the trouble that Mr. Cooper did. Not because they are that much less racist, but because the culture is different. A white American on an NHL team is not going to slip up and offend a black American, but I bet he would offend a Russian or a Swede. Because any Russian (or Swedish, or whatever other language happens to be prevalent in that team/league) he learns will likely include some unsavory words.
With whom is a person spending his time? What do his ears hear all day? Don’t be surprised when his speech starts to match.
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. (KJV)
1 Corinthians 15:33