It's easily the worst off-season of Riley Cooper's football life. People who never heard of his name until this week are wondering how racist he truly is? His fellow Philadelphia Eagles, especially the Black players making up a majority of the team, are wondering if they can trust him as an ally on and off the field ever again. And sports media hack pundits spent a good deal of time with Cooper as their show's A-block topic before going back to constant over-analyzing the lives of Johnny Manziel and Alex Rodriguez.
But as the pressure centers intensifies on the once anonymous player-turned-star of the ever ironic "post-racial America" reality show blowing up in our faces for the umpteenth time, even more offensive and disturbing than Cooper's N-word outburst at that Kenny Chesney concert is National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell's hypocritical non-reaction to it and another racial issue that has long plagued the league: The name of the Washington Redskins and the arrogant indifference displayed by its team owners for almost a century.
Goodell's comments Thursday morning on ESPN Radio won't feature as the lead backpage story on NFL.com over Cooper, but they really should. The NFL commissioner declined to take further action on Cooper after the Eagles fined him an undisclosed amount. "We do not penalize at the club level and the league level for the same incident," he said. "So we will not be taking separate action from the club."
The commissioner hasn't even demanded that Cooper meet him in his office in New York, despite him usually forcing players he feels is tarnishing the league's reputation to have a face-to-face sit-down there or risk further chastisement.
But more alarming was Goodell's dismissive answer to if Cooper's comments compared to the Redskins' 80 year refusal to change its controversial name, a story that has upset activist Native American groups and others for decades.
"I grew up as a Redskins fan in Washington D.C., that's a name that has always represented pride and heritage and tradition," Goodell said. "The things that I think have made the Redskins fans so proud of that name. And they have always presented the Redskins in a very positive light."
Despite that, even the most knowledgeable Redskins fan would be hard pressed to ignore the contentious history their team has always had when it comes to race. Its former owner, the late George Marshall, initially refused to have black players on his team despite strong pressure from the Kennedy Administration and The Washington Post before finally ending that racist policy in 1962.
Succeeding Marshall as Redskins' owner was Jack Kent Cooke, another wealthy White man unmoved by Native American sentiments. Approximately 2,000 members of several indigenous tribes protested the team's name outside their 1992 Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills in Minneapolis. But Cooke was unmoved, saying, "There's not a single, solitary jot, whit chance in the world that the Redskins will adopt a new nickname."
The team's current owner Daniel Snyder has been even more insensitive to the name controversy than his predecessors, strongly vowing that their moniker "will never change." Shamefully, Goodell is on the same page as Snyder.
"We have to continue to be open, we have to continue to listen," Goodell added. "But we also want to make sure that we're doing what's right to encourage that heritage and that pride that we have in the Redskins name."
Goodell, Snyder, Cooke, and all other Redskins name supporters have been quick to cite polls over the years showing almost unanimous support or indifference among Native Americans to the team's name. But many have argued that those polls are deeply flawed, with Indiana associate professor Steve Russell adding that those poll samples include "self-identified Native Americans" that have "nothing to do with Indians."
For as powerful a commissioner Goodell is, it sure is quite the scene to see him act powerless in regards to Cooper and, even more shamefully, the Redskins name. So while many tweets, headlines, and conversations debate and snark on how much of a fool Riley Cooper is, it's a shame that they won't feature more attention on how much of a coward Roger Goodell is.