Crisis reveals character, they say.
I hope you read Otherwise’s piece on Riley Cooper the other day. It’s truly an exceptional example of the kind of honest, intelligent thinking I’ve come top expect from my colleagues here at S&R.
But while I agree with most of the principles underlying Otherwise’s reasoning, I’m not sure I’m convinced that they apply to Cooper specifically. Before I make my case, let’s review the video that touched off the whole firestorm.
I guess the question of whether to condemn Cooper or, as Otherwise suggests, give him a break, hinges on whether or not we believe what he has said since the video went public. True, he has in fact said and done a great deal that you’d ask someone who was genuinely contrite to do. No argument about that.
The thing is, I don’t believe him. Let’s begin by examining the timeline. The video broke on July 31, and the apologizing commenced shortly thereafter. But the incident happened on June 9. that’s over six weeks where he did nothing. He didn’t apologize publicly. He didn’t tell the club or his teammates and apologize to them. It doesn’t sound like he told his parents about it. You know, the people who didn’t raise him that way and who are now in the news for all the wrong reasons.
Six weeks. He. Did. Nothing. Despite his mea culpas and his insistence that this isn’t a word he uses and it isn’t the kind of person he is, he did nothing.
Okay, you may be saying, but if he made this horrible mistake and was this embarrassed by it of course he wouldn’t say or do anything. He probably hoped it would go away, and no way in hell he actually wants to draw attention to it. Think of the most embarrassing thing you ever did, Sam. Did you go public with it?
No I didn’t, and this is a great point. It’s not only possible, it’s plausible.
But it isn’t consistent with a couple of things. First, you don’t have to go public to apologize to the security guard. You can find him, apologize, maybe even try and make it up by doing something nice for him. Cooper didn’t do this.
What else? Oh – the team says he’s now receiving counseling, and if we’re to believe what he says he’s probably grateful for it. He asks us to believe that this outburst represents behavior that is out of character for him, and if so, he had to be shocked to hear that word coming out of his mouth. I can empathize with that. If I was pissed off and all of a sudden heard myself using that language it would rock my self-image to the foundation. I’d absolutely be seeking counseling of some sort because I’d be in need of it.
If Cooper sought counseling to address this horrid new self-revelation we’ve heard nothing of it, and rest assured, that’s precisely the sort of information that he and/or his agent and/or the team would be making a big deal of.
Finally, Cooper is emphatic in asserting that this is not a word he uses. Is this claim plausible? Well, Otherwise relates an incident where he got so worked up that he blurted out something that was utterly out of character. Do I believe that this happens, that people get mad and say things they don’t mean, that they call people names that they know will hurt?
Yes, I absolutely believe this. But I’m also really intuitive and I have this nuclear powered bullshit detector. I have been known to use a foul word or two. I’ve said things that would make a sailor blush. My vocabulary is a large one, and there are many, many wicked words that I have experience with. There are also words that I never use. My suspicion is that when I crack off a profanity-laced rant featuring my chosen epithets that they roll somewhat elegantly off my tongue. I imagine I might sound less fluid were I to try out new words mid-conniption.
So the question is, when you watch that video and hear Cooper in context, when you admire his rage in full flight, and then he says that isn’t a word he uses, do you believe him?
I don’t. To my ears the word sounds very much at home in his mouth. I grew up in a place where that word was common daily usage and Cooper isn’t the first Southerner I’ve heard bust it out in anger. When I watch that video, I am reminded more of that world and the people in it than I am of people who do not have that sort of racist language in their vocabularies.
I may be wrong. Otherwise may be right. I don’t know Riley Cooper and he may be telling us the straight-up truth in his recent public statements. If he is, I hope the counseling helps and that he learns from this mistake and goes on to be an example for a society trying to claw its way up out of an unspeakable history of prejudice.
I may be wrong. But I doubt it.