Ah, the Niners played their second exhibition game of the preseason last night, and while it wasn't broadcast here in Seahawks territory, I did get to see hunks of it on the NFL network. The wasn't much first string action, but the fourth-string quarterback, BJ Daniels looked pretty good at the end of the game. Niners won 15-13. It was utterly meaningless, but good to see them running around on the field.
Riley Cooper, a receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles, did and said something very, very stupid and disgusting. Drunk and partying in a sea of whiteness, Cooper apparently lashed out at a black security guard and threatened to "fight every n****r here".
A cellphone camera captured Cooper’s ignorance. It took a month, but the blogosphere unearthed the video and broadcast it to the world. The Eagles reacted responsibly, fining Cooper and forcing him to confront his mistake publicly with the media and privately with his teammates.
I don’t expect the media to respond as responsibly. Too many of us will think the solution is for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Riley Cooper. Too many of us will think Riley Cooper in no way reflects on all of us.
Well, I’ve been young, drunk, filled with athletic testosterone and partying in a sea of blackness. I’m glad there were no cellphone cameras then. I’ve been middle-aged, drunk, filled with non-athletic cholesterol and partying in a sea of blackness. I’m glad no one recorded the foolish thoughts I’ve uttered when I assumed no one around me would be offended.
Maybe most of the people working in the media are perfect, immune to impure, biased thoughts or actions. I’m not. And no one I know is. What happens with age and maturity is we get better at combatting our biases and keeping them from spilling out of our mouths. When we intellectually evolve, we get better at seeing the stupidity of our biases and not letting them dictate our actions.
I’m extremely distrustful of anyone who claims they’re free of biases. They’re dishonest or delusional.
For the most part, Riley Cooper handled his apology flawlessly. He forthrightly expressed the proper remorse and humbly answered every question.
“This is the lowest of lows,” Cooper said. “This is not the type of person I want to be portrayed as. This isn’t the type of person I am. I’m extremely sorry.”
There’s no room for Cooper to be totally honest. The media — social and legitimate — won’t allow Cooper to be transparent. What was captured on tape is a reflection of what type of person Cooper is.
He’s flawed. He’s a product of America’s conflicted melting pot. That is not a knock on America. We have racial issues because we’re the most diverse nation on the planet. We have trouble working through those issues because dishonesty and simple-mindedness are rewarded.
Like all of us, Riley Cooper is biased. He needs to admit that to himself so he can adequately combat his biases and be a force for positive change.
I used to be proudly homophobic. I used the F-word regularly. In 1998, while sitting in the New England Patriots press box, I got in a back-and-forth exchange with Pats fans and cracked a “joke” that ended with me asking, “Drew Bledsoe gay?”
The ensuing controversy started the process of me recognizing and realizing the utter ignorance of my homophobia. I used to be offended when people analogized the struggle for gay equality with black people’s struggle for equality. I now get it and understand their struggle benefits our struggle and the overall fight for fairness.
I hope Cooper is allowed to evolve. I hope we don’t demonize him to the point that he becomes John Rocker II and more entrenched in bigotry. I hope Cooper confronts who he is. He didn’t threaten to fight every n****r because there’s no bigotry in his heart and mind. He did it because he has failed to deal with who he really is.
He’s in the same denial most of us are in. I’m talking about all of us — black, white, brown and yellow.
I want to make one other point before I finish. Cooper’s transgression isn’t much of a locker-room issue for the Eagles. There are bigots of every color on sports teams. The beauty of sports is that teams force participants to put aside their biases and work together. Working together is different from liking or respecting each other.
Cooper isn’t a coach or executive with the power to hire and fire people based on his racial biases. Cooper is a player. He’s a 25-year-old kid with immature thoughts. His teammates will move on as long as he plays at a high level.
Racial slurs fly on football fields somewhat regularly. It’s a violent game that brings out the worst in people. My junior season at Ball State, I played against a white Northern Illinois defensive tackle who N-bombed me most of the afternoon. I kept shouting at his mostly black defensive teammates about why they would tolerate such a flaming idiot. The next year, the same guy was the most courteous opponent I played against all season.
Let’s help Cooper evolve and mature. We might be surprised by the results.
When Pam Smith took her son Alex to visit a residential high school for foster teens in 2005, she meant to teach him a lesson. Alex Smith took that lesson and turned it into his legacy.
Inspired by the trip, the former 49ers quarterback — traded yesterday to the Kansas City Chiefs — has spent every year of his professional career pouring time and money into bettering the lives of dozens of foster kids.
In 2007, Smith helped found the Alex Smith Guardian Scholars Program at San Diego State University, a program that has graduated 23 of the 30 foster teens it has supported so far. The program provides up to five years of tuition, housing, books, mentoring, career counseling, health services and living expenses.
Smith himself meets with the students at the end of every semester, either in person or via video conferencing, to check on their progress.
“That blew me away,” said former foster teen Marquis Blount, who graduated from SDSU with a computer engineering degree. “It was amazing to see when he had time off that he was a part of the program. He was like an older brother, making sure we were doing OK.”
Smith has even spent time in Washington lobbying on behalf of foster kids, particularly teenagers who, until recently, were emancipated from the foster system at 18 and often left with no support system to turn to.
To learn more about Smith’s work with foster kids and to read about the individual teenagers supported by his foundation, click here.
Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick is one of three children of Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. He's the only one who doesn't help churn out mozzarella and Monterey jack at Hilmar Cheese Co. in Merced County, where Rick is vice president of operations, and where he spoke in a telephone interview this week about his increasingly famous son, his upbringing in Turlock (Stanislaus County), and the expectations now on his shoulders.
On Colin handling the pressure of his first playoffs:
"Since he was little, he has had this unique ability to block things out and focus on the task at hand, and not let other things around him bother him. I remember when I dropped him off at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana before his senior year in college. He said, 'Dad, it's not about luck any more - you've either prepared or you haven't.' "
On Colin's decision to play football at the University of Nevada in Reno - the only school that had offered him a scholarship - rather than pursue baseball, in which he was a prized prospect and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
"He basically sat in our living room and told a Major League Baseball representative, 'I'm undraftable.' He said, 'This is my dream, this is my goal, this is what I'm going to work for.' As parents, you try to guide him to the best decision. Everyone had an opinion, but he decided that day what he wanted to do and he never looked back. He has that tattoo across his chest ('Against all odds') for a reason."
On Colin throwing a seven-inning no-hitter in high school while seriously ill:
"We knew before the game he had a cold or something. He said, 'I don't feel real good, but I'm going to go to school today.' After the game, he came home, took a shower, laid on the couch, and started shaking. I said, 'What's the matter?' He said, 'I'm really sick.' My wife's a registered nurse. She took him to the emergency room (at Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock). He had pneumonia. That's how focused he can be."
On the response in Turlock to Colin's success:
"To me, the most gratifying thing as a parent is people keep coming up to me and saying, 'We love Colin because he hasn't changed. He's still Colin.' Most people say, 'We're so proud of Colin on the field, but more proud of how he's handled himself.' I think it would be very easy for most individuals to get very caught up in the publicity, but he's all about football and trying to achieve a goal. He's focused, and he's very good at putting that stuff aside. Everything he does is with a purpose. He hasn't become full of himself."
On Colin's competitive nature:
"He's very competitive. With anything and anybody. If we were to go outside and shoot HORSE, and if I were ever to beat him a game ... He has this philosophy - we're going to keep playing until I win, and then we can quit. Our family is like that in general. We're pretty competitive, but he's very competitive."
On Colin's leadership ability:
"When he was younger, in fifth or sixth grade, they had a GATE program for gifted students. If you were in the top 30, you go into the program at a different school, and he was like the top kid. We talked to the administrators, and they said Colin needed to be in there. Then we talked about it at home, and we decided to leave him in the regular school. They said, 'Why would you do that?' And I said, 'Listen, there's other things in life that are important.'
"One of the things we liked at the regular school was that Colin got his work done before anybody and then helped the other kids. And that was a leadership issue, even at that young age. He already was competitive enough. He didn't need to be competitive in schoolwork, too. I think it was a lesson to Colin that, hey, not everybody is as talented or gifted. It doesn't mean they're not good or important people. He was just one of the kids."
On Colin balancing confidence and humility:
"For me, Colin is a very confident young man. But I think his friends would tell you he's not cocky. He would tell you he doesn't think this is a big deal. He'd tell you, 'Everybody's good at something.' Some people are good at playing the piano, some people are good at dancing, and some people are good at football. "I used to tell him, 'If you have to tell somebody how good you are, how good really are you?' "
On Sunday the Niners go into Atlanta and battle the Falcons for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
This is as good a time as any for the readers to learn a little more about Colin Kaepernick, the new Niners starting quarterback. Besides being able to fly and besides being covered with tattoos of Psalms, he also has a pet tortoise, Sammy.