There seems no doubt that Riley Cooper’s booze-fueled racial epithet hurled at a black security guard at Lincoln Financial Field was some pretty hateful speech.
But did the Eagle wide-receiver’s tirade – captured on video in June at a Kenny Chesney concert — amount to a hate crime?
“From what I saw of the videotape it was not criminal behavior,” says Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams, the city’s top law-enforcement official and an African American who says he’s had his own experience with racism.
“Just telling people stupid stuff does not rise to the level of a hate crime,” Williams told reporters Thursday as he announced that Eagles management had asked him to provide a list of charities or community-service that might benefit from Cooper’s personal participation, or the fine imposed by the team.
Williams said that “just using offensive language during the course of a crime doesn’t make it a hate crime. If someone commits the crime and part of the motive, part of the reason they are committing a crime, is because of someone’s race, then we will often charge people with a hate crime.”
But those same words could also be considered a “terroristic threat,” Williams continued. “It’s all very fact-specific. We have to understand the context of the language and the behavior and what was also the intended hope of the criminal.”
So what was the DA’s take on Cooper’s rant?
“What I saw was just a person that was drunk, that was mad because he couldn’t get somewhere because he didn’t have the right credentials, which often happens to many of us,” Williams said. “And that he said some stupid stuff to the people that he thought were preventing him from getting on stage or something at this concert. That’s what I saw. Really it’s just a stupid thing. Watching it … was very awful and it hurts but I thought it would be much worse than what I saw, in all honesty.”
So, no crime committed.
But just because there was no crime doesn’t mean there won’t be punishment.
Despite Cooper’s apology and words of support from some black teammates, Williams said “I’m sure there will be other players, defensive ends and defensive backs from other teams, that might remind him of that language as he crosses the field.”