Chip Kelly Fears Locker Room Division In Wake of Riley Cooper Saga

By Matt Lombardo
Howard Smith – USA TODAY Sports

The lasting image of Thursday’s Philadelphia Eagles practice under the indoor bubble of the Novacare Complex is a telling one.

In downtime between repetitions or segments where he was not a participant, off in the distance away from his teammates was Riley Cooper. Almost as if ostracized.

It is of course only 24 hours since a video went viral showing a visibly intoxicated but still having his wits about him Cooper at a Kenny Chesney concert in June at Lincoln Financial Field angrily shouting a racial slur towards an African American security guard.

The vile action has caused friction within the Eagles locker room and prompted running back LeSean McCoy to admonish Cooper, admitting Thursday that he has “lost a friend.”

Moreover, head coach Chip Kelly doesn’t see the healing process for his team taking place any time soon.

“I don’t think this is a situation that’s going to go away today or tomorrow. It’s going to take some time. The guys that know Riley and are a little closer to him, it may be easier for them, but there are a lot of new guys that are still trying to wrap their arms around it. There is a concern about locker room division, it’s really a hot topic. We need to have some open conversation about what’s going on and where to go from  here.”

An obviously shaken Cooper said that he did not sleep or eat on Wednesday night, even after apologizing to his teammates prior to the evening walk through.

Kelly indicated that there was never any consideration given to cutting Cooper, who will become the first NFL player in league history to attend racial sensitivity courses during the season and must pay an undisclosed fine to the team.

Kelly called Cooper’s use of the slur “a heinous mistake. I was appalled by it, I was actually shocked by it.”

For a team that has seen its fair share of controversies in the not so distant past Rush Limbaugh’s racial criticisms of Donovan McNabb and the Terrell Owens-McNabb saga in 2005, and the tragedies surrounding former head coach Andy Reid‘s sons, fewer times has a more palpable dark cloud been felt.

Cooper’s actions caused a deep hurt among his teammates, in a league that is populated by 65 percent African Americans.  For a franchise that is in the midst of hitting the reset button and laying the foundation under a new head coach, it’s difficult to imagine an easy road back to togetherness as long as Cooper remains on the roster.

Matt Lombardo is also a sports radio host on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia. Join the conversation and follow him on Twitter.  

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