I've met a guy like Riley Cooper at every single Georgia football game I attended during my four years at the university. Of course, it's not just a Georgia problem, because I went to Auburn, Alabama, LSU, Kentucky, and yes, even Vanderbilt games and met the same guy.
Here's a basic rundown: He's white, drinking, and trying to let everyone know he's a badass (which is never a good barometer for whether said person is, in fact, a badass). Probably a proud truck aficionado.
@MikePouncey That truck is sick bro!!
— Riley Cooper (@RileyCooper_14) January 30, 2013
That's not an excuse or a minimization – in fact, it's the opposite. When people of any race feel threatened or want to feel big and tough, the easiest thing to do is violate a social norm. Break a bottle. Yell. Use the n-word.
The violator’s goal is to make other people feel as uncomfortable as they are. See how riled up Cooper was in the video? It's a human weakness to lash out and bring someone else down to your level. Using racism to cover for weakness is weaker than weak, especially when barriers separate you from your supposed enemy (like many Italian soccer fans).
The root of this problem lies in the fact that feelings of fear or uncertainty will never be eradicated from the human psyche. Cooper is surrounded by black players every day at work and that was also the case throughout college. Is he racist all the time? Like the majority of white America, probably not. But he still felt comfortable enough in public at a Kenny Chesney concert to bust it out, which likely indicates it's not the first time he's said it. So while he might not be a racist, he's probably not advocating for civil rights either.
It’s also fascinating how the human psyche allows us to compartmentalize. This might be how Cooper can view his black Gator and Eagles teammates as extended family, but the black strangers obstructing (or even goading) him from behind a fence as ni**ers and potential victims of his threatening hate crime.
Before things spun too far out of control, Cooper issued an apology over Twitter (#soyouknowit'sreal) saying how disgusted he was with himself just 54 days after the concert and about two hours after it hit the web. I'm sure he is sorry though, because he probably just lost the majority of the Philadelphia Eagles' lockerroom and any number of fans – despite Michael Vick's incredibly forgiving statement supporting his fellow Eagle. Very few people, let alone NFL players, understand acceptance and forgiveness the way the elder Vick does, and it seems more likely that players will adopt Marcus Vick's stance instead.
I doubt it'll be the last time Riley Cooper, or any one of his clones, uses the n-word, and it'll be interesting to see how many of his teammates pick up him after any number of our Top 5 Safeties line this dude up over the middle.