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Last updated: August 2, 2013 9:27 a.m.

The Riley Cooper thing

Ben Smith
The Journal Gazette
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Associated PressCAT

He's a free man today, despite being a knucklehead at a Kenny Chesney concert.

I can hear them already, the defenders of Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper's inalienable right to be a moron. They'll blather about "freedom of speech." They'll say "But black people use the N-word all the time ..."

The first merits no response, because Riley Cooper's freedom of speech has hardly been curtailed. He's a free man today, despite being a knucklehead at a Kenny Chesney concert. And I believe his apology, because it actually was one; there was none of the usual "mistakes were made" tap-dance that politicians so often favor. Cooper's employer has fined him, as is their right, and his black teammates have said they forgive him, pointing out that none of us is immune to a case of the stupids once in awhile.

As to what is or isn't in Cooper's heart ... well, you don't go where he went if you don't bear a certain animus in that area. Context is everything, and when you're a white guy surrounded by other white guys and spew That Word at a black security guard, there's not much wiggle room. You meant That Word in its vilest form -- as opposed, say, to Richard Pryor using it in a comedy routine, or one of Cooper's black teammates dropping it casually into a conversation with another of his black teammates.

That's not to say it should still be at all acceptable. But there's a world of difference between one and the other, and everyone knows it.

As to Cooper ... whatever demon (fueled by alcohol) that made him use that exact word is his demon to wrestle with. And that should be the end of it. But, of course, when we're dealing with a 24/7 media that made a Thing out of Johnny Manziel going to a party, inevitably this will be a Thing for awhile, too.

And that, friends and neighbors, is our demon to wrestle with.