On September 13th, 2013, Eagles fans cheered when a convicted felon threw a touchdown pass to an alleged racist.
Michael Vick’s toss to Riley Cooper brought the Birds within three points of the San Diego Chargers in a week two home game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles went on to lose 33 to 30 with Phillip Rivers throwing three touchdown passes to Eddie freaking Royal.
The Cooper incident dominated Philadelphia sports that summer.
A guy who was caught on camera using a racial slur remained on the Eagles’ roster despite fierce fractures in the locker room and among the fan base.
Some people wanted his immediate release for using the “N” word.
Others accepted his apology.
“This is the lowest of lows,” Cooper said at the time. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry.”
A third group of fans decided to remain neutral. Some skirted the issue entirely, claiming instead that Cooper should be cut because he was a mediocre football player. That may have happened if not for a preseason ACL tear suffered by teammate Jeremy Maclin.
That’s one of three ironies that surrounded the incident.
The second was that Cooper went on to have a career year.
And the third was that Vick, who spent 548 days in prison for his role in a dog fighting operation, was Cooper’s biggest supporter both publicly and in the locker room.
“We understand a lot of people may be hurt and offended, but I know Riley Cooper,” Vick explained. “I know him as a man. I’ve been with him for the last three years and I know what type of person he is. That’s what makes it easy, and at the same time, hard to understand. But (it’s) easy to forgive him.”
Vick rebuked his brother Marcus, who called for players to target Cooper on the field. He also broke up a fight between his receiver and cornerback Cary Williams, which all three later claimed had nothing to do with lingering tension from the slur incident.
There were, of course, Eagle fans who protested the team’s signing of Vick back in 2009. Some animal lovers put their fandom on indefinite hold. Others accepted Vick’s remorse, noting that he basically lost everything and actually went to jail.
A third portion of fans, the same ones that sat on the fence with the Cooper situation, didn’t seem to care one way or another as long as the Eagles were winning games.
So, when it comes to Joe Mixon, the 2017 draft prospect who punched a woman in the face, or Dalvin Cook, the 2017 draft prospect who allegedly punched a woman in the face, let’s consider recent Eagles history and the context of “character issues.”
Mixon reached a settlement with the woman in that video, Amelia Molitor, in a face-to-face meeting sans attorneys. The case is now closed, with both parties moving on and Molitor wishing Mixon luck in the future. The former Oklahoma running back did community service, went to counseling, and also missed the entire 2014 season.
Cook was found not guilty of a misdemeanor battery charge in his case, which did go to court. As far as legal status, he’s in the clear.
Where would you draw the line?
Is punching a woman in the face worse than killing dogs or using a racial slur?
Are we willing to reconcile violence in the face of true regret? Are Mixon’s past transgressions a stain that can never be removed? Should rape allegations, in the case of Gareon Conley, change the way we look at him, charges or not?
Some will take a hard stance: “It’s never okay to hit a woman.” That’s fine, though I’d argue that it’s never okay to hit anyone, regardless of gender.
Others are willing to forgive with the same sympathy shown towards Vick, who then applied those principles in his treatment of Cooper.
But this column isn’t meant to lecture. It’s not the media’s role to be the all-knowing tribunal, though some local radio hosts will swing the proverbial gavel.
I think we just need to be consistent with the way we view professional athletes who cross the line, or get too close to it.
If you forgave Cooper, can you forgive Mixon? If you accepted Vick’s remorse, is Cook okay to wear midnight green?
Draft Joe Mixon! I'll be at the Linc in September with a Mixon jersey and a sign that says "she shoved him first"
— FakeWIPCaller (@FakeWIPCaller) April 24, 2017
Every NFL franchise has to deal with character issues, and that includes your town, your team, your Philadelphia Eagles.
The Eagles released Josh Huff for a gun and weed and speeding incident, but drafted Wendell Smallwood, a player who was arrested on witness intimidation charges (later dropped) and also had a past history with racial and homophobic tweets.
Linebacker Nigel Bradham said he accidentally brought a loaded gun to an airport. DeSean Jackson was the victim of two home burglaries and the subject of alleged gang ties. LeSean McCoy was sued by two Philly cops after city prosecutors decided not to charge him following an altercation at a nightclub last February. Jalen Mills and Dorial Green-Beckham had charges filed against them, then dropped.
For context, Jackson was never charged, McCoy was playing for the Bills at the time, and Smallwood was cleared by Eagles brass, who said that they thoroughly investigated his background.
A lot of people wanted to bury those guys, and if that’s your thing, then go ahead, but let’s make sure we get the facts straight before phoning 94 WIP.
Plus, it’s not like character issues mean much in the NFL these days.
This is a league that reinstated Pacman Jones, Donte Stallworth, and Plaxico Burress. We’ve had “Bountygate” and “Deflategate” and players hitting wives, girlfriends, children, and their own quarterbacks.
In a world of Greg Hardys and Josh Gordons, we could use a few more Connor Barwins and Troy Polamalus.
In the case of Mixon, Cook, Conley, or anyone else in the draft, let’s at least look in the mirror before passing judgment on someone else. Did you support the Eagles when Vick and Cooper were scoring touchdowns?
You can look at players with “character issues” however you want, just be consistent.
Let’s try not to be hypocrites.