Eagles Training Camp 2015: Who Will be the Birds Next Go-to Receiver?

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles wide receiver  Jordan Matthews had a big game as a rookie against Washington last season. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Will he be the go-to guy in 2015? Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews had a big game as a rookie against Washington last season. The former Vanderbilt star caught two touchdown passes. Will he be the go-to guy in 2015? Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—When Jeremy Maclin, the Philadelphia Eagles best receiver in 2014, signed a free agent deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, Birds fans have been wondering who’s going to be the guy that replaces his numbers in the offense.
That will be one of the things to watch when Eagles training camp opens on August 1 at the team’s NovaCare facility in South Philadelphia.

Last season, Maclin had 85 receptions for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns, not bad for a guy who didn’t have the game-breaking speed of a DeSean Jackson.

The best returning receiver on the Eagles right now is second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who had a solid rookie season. Last season, the former Vanderbilt star caught 67 passes for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. Matthews was the Eagles second-leading receiver in 2014.

At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, Matthews picked up most of his catches from playing inside the slot where he used to his height to his advantage. Throughout minicamp, he was still lining up at the slot. But I think he has the ability to play on the outside as well.

Matthews said it doesn’t matter where they line him up, he’ll go out and do his job.

“Of course, I’m getting some reps out there, but it’s still receiver,” Matthews said during the Eagles spring organized team activities. “Our offense is so dynamic that you can’t put too much weight on who’s outside or who’s inside…who’s No. 1 or No. 2. I think that’s stuff is really irrelevant.

”We have a dynamic offense. We have a lot of weapons, I’m getting some outside work, but we’re trying to put a product on the field that’s going to win.”

While not necessarily that homerun hitter on the deep ball, Matthews can be that go-to receiver in third down situations, something the Eagles haven’t had since Terrell Owens. Not to suggest that Matthews is on par with Owens when he was in his prime just yet, but I can see him lining up in the slot or on the outside.

Meanwhile, the guy that could fill the role of a deep threat is rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor. While the former USC star has yet to catch a pass in an NFL game, the Eagles No. 1 draft choice does come with some impressive collegiate credentials.

The 6-1, 190-pound Agholor ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, which is by no means slow. During his final year at USC, Agholor caught 104 passes, 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging 101 yards per game. He can go deep and he can run solid routes.

Like Matthews, Agholor can run routes from the slot or from the outside receiver spots as did during his days at USC. During his freshman year at USC, Agholor was averaging a over 17 yards per catch, but during his final year with the Trojans he averaged a little over 12 yards per catch.

“During my freshman and sophomore year my yards per catch were great,” Agholor said. “All I wanted to do was move the chains and play the game right way.”

Everyone in the Eagles receiving corps—young or old will definitely learn from the wisdom of former Dallas Cowboys/ Cleveland Browns wide receiver Miles Austin.

In Cleveland last season, Austin played for a Browns squad that had instability at the quarterback spot, yet still managed to catch 47 passes for 568 yards with two touchdowns.

Second-year wide receiver Josh Huff, who showed brilliant flashes of brilliance as a kick returner, is also looking to get some reps in the passing the game. Huff has the speed to move all over the place and he’s a good blocker in the run game.

The odd man out among the veterans in this offense is Riley Cooper. Last season, Cooper did not have a good year, Cooper who saw his numbers drop in receiving yardage, average yards per catch and touchdowns.If Huff or one of the younger players has an outstanding camp, Cooper may not survive the summer.

Eagles Hope to Maintain Team Chemistry with Offseason Signings

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper will be with the Eagles for the next five years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper will be with the Eagles for the next five years. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—Winning the NFC East and nearly beating the New Orleans Saints in the playoffs last season has convinced the Eagles that they are on the verge of being a really good team.

The priority for the Eagles front office this offseason is to keep the core group that they helped them get to the playoffs in 2013.  The Birds signings in the last week are an indication that they want to maintain the chemistry of the team that helped them to achieve a 10-6 record last season.

The Eagles gave contract extensions to All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters and center Jason Kelce. They also signed wide receiver Riley Cooper to a five-year deal and they signed wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed all of last season with a right-knee injury, to a one-year deal that could turn into a multi-year deal. The Birds also signed defensive end Cedric Thornton to a one-year contract.

“It’s a great reflection on what we’re doing and it’s starts with the ownership and we got to give credit to Jeffrey (Lurie) for giving us the flexibility to go out and sign our guys and always giving us the resources to do what want to do,” said Eagles general manager Howie Roseman. “That’s very lucky in the National Football League. Part of it is the culture we’re trying build here and we gotta get better. I think the players see what we want to accomplish and they want to be a part of it.”

The odd man out in all the Eagles signings was wide receiver Jason Avant, who was released by the team after being with the team for eight years.

But Cooper’s emergence as a weapon in the Eagles offense and the potential of a relatively young Maclin made Avant expendable.  Cooper, who signed a five-year deal reportedly worth $25 million, is coming off a career year in which caught 47 passes for 847 yards and eight touchdowns.

In 2012, Maclin, who’s had two knee surgeries, led the team in receptions and has caught at least 50 passes in his first four years with the team.

“People like Riley because he brings some physical toughness to your football team. He can go up and get the football … For us, (Cooper) fits what we do,” Roseman said. “We’re excited to have Jeremy back. That was our goal when we started the offseason. We drafted him in the first round and we excited about seeing what he can do in this offense. He adds another weapon to this offense.”

The re-signings of Maclin and Cooper to go along with DeSean Jackson might give you the impression that the Birds have all the receivers they need.  After all, Jackson is coming off the best year of his career with 82 receptions for 1,332 years and nine touchdowns.

You can make an argument that the Birds receiving corps is full of two or three’s along with a Jackson who is more of 1-A type of receiver. I still think the Eagles need to find a big No.1 possession receiver via free agency or the draft that would fit with this team. Roseman said he’s not ruling out that possibility.

“It’s about value,” Roseman said. “It’s about value in free agency and then it’s about taking the best player available in the draft.  I wouldn’t take anything off the table. I wouldn’t put any absolutes on any position right now at this moment. We don’t want to be in a position where we see a really good value in free agency and we say, ‘No,” just because we might a particular depth chart at the moment. And that’s the same thing for the draft.”

The emergence of Nick Foles as the Eagles starting quarterback  and LeSean McCoy leading the NFL in rushing in 2013 was thanks in large part to the outstanding performance of the offensive line led by Peters, who went to his sixth Pro Bowl, and Kelce, who signed seven-year deal reportedly worth $37.5 million dollars.

“The offensive line, more than other position group, really relies on each other,” Kelce said. “It’s always a tight-knit group. We have a tight, close group of our guys in our room. I’m excited to work with not just the starter, but the guys we have in the wings waiting to get their chance.  I think we have a great group. … I think this offensive line is in a great position to be successful.”

In 2014, the Eagles schedule will not be easy with games against the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers.  With the team showing a commitment to keeping last year’s team relatively intact, Kelce believes the Birds are on the cusp of being a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the NFC.

“I haven’t been this excited for a football season since I can remember,” Kelce said. “With the way we ended it, with the way it looks like it’s headed, the genuine enthusiasm that everyone has, it’s a good time to be a Philadelphia Eagle.”

Fond Farewell: Michael Vick Unlikely to Return to Eagles in 2014

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick shares a light moment at his locker  with teammates  wide receiver DeSean Jackson (left) and running back LeSean McCoy (right). Vick will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Photo by Chris Murray.

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick shares a light moment at his locker with teammates wide receiver DeSean Jackson (left) and running back LeSean McCoy (right). Vick will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Photo by Chris Murray.

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—As Eagles quarterback Michael Vick went about cleaning out his locker, his teammates stopped by to pat him on the back, offered words of encouragement, and some had him sign his autograph to a pair of sneakers.

Wide receiver DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy spent the most time laughing and joking with Vick and telling him not to pack his things.

“I think Mike Vick has meant a lot to our team,” Jackson said. “He’s done some great things since he’s been here. He’s been a mentor and a brother to me. He’s a professional. He’s still a great quarterback.  I think he has a lot of upside for being a starting quarterback in this league.

“Regardless, if he’s here or anywhere else, he will do a great job. A lot of people have turned his back on him and really don’t think he can still do it. In my eyes, I think he’s still a top player in this league. He’s very dangerous. ”

With Vick at the end of his current one-year contract with the Eagles, the various gatherings at his locker was more like folks were saying one final farewell to a guy that has been a team leader throughout much of his time with the team.

Wide receiver Riley Cooper, whose offensive comments about African-Americans at a country music concert got him suspended during the training camp, said Vick has been a supportive teammate from his arrival in Philadelphia and during the time he was facing criticism from fans and teammates in aftermath of his him using the N-word.

“He went out of his way when I first got here to talk me and so I followed his lead. He’s a great guy, great player. If I’m back here, I hope he is, too,” said Cooper, who 47 passes for 837 yards and eight touchdowns.

While the team hasn’t officially said if they were going to re-sign him or not, it is highly likely Vick will not be back with the Birds for the 2014 season. Vick said he still believes he can be a starting quarterback in the NFL and is also open to possibly staying with the Eagles as a backup.

“My desire to start will be the same even when I’m 38, 39-years-old,” Vick said. “I’m still 33, I still feel good and like I’ve said before the way that I’ve been able to take care of my body this year. I feel good. I still know that I can play.

“I’m just confident in what I can do based on what I do every day, whether it’s running the scout team in warm-ups or just understanding what our game-plan and concepts are, so I feel like I’m built to do this. I just want to keep it going because I’m not finished yet.”

Since the Eagles loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card Playoff, Vick said that no one from the Birds front office has approached him or spoken to him about coming back to the team in 2014.

Eagles General manager Howie Roseman said he was proud of Vick’s contribution to the team this season as a backup to Nick Foles, but also said he understands that the former Virginia Tech star wants to have an opportunity to be a starting quarterback.

“For a guy in his situation to take on the leadership role and be supportive of his teammates was incredible,” Roseman said on Monday. “Mike obviously feels and deservedly so that he’s a starter in this league, I’m sure that’s going to be his first choice. I feel like every year we have this conversation about Mike not being back. We just don’t know how things are going to work out. We all really like and appreciate Mike Vick.”

That sentiment was shared by team owner Jeffrey Lurie after the Eagles loss to the Saints Saturday night.

“Michael has been impressive to us, I’m sure to you guys, but also to us internally,” Lurie said. “Incredibly mature as a teammate, a leader, somebody who helped Nick tremendously, he has been a joy to have.  He represented the team always with class.”

This season, Vick won the starting job during training camp after a competitive battle with Foles for the top spot. He started seven games this season, but a left hamstring injury forced him to miss several games. He threw five touchdown passes against three interceptions.  In Vick’s absence, Foles got hot and wound up with 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions.

In a situation that could have been potentially difficult, Vick worked with Foles and did everything the coaching staff asked of him.

“Unfortunately, he got hurt and that gave an opportunity to another guy,” said Eagles head Chip Kelly.  “I think sometimes for a lot of people, you put yourself in those shoes, that’s hard to wrap your arms around because it’s not like Michael was wrong and got benched.  It was just a unique situation and I think how helped Nick through the  process, it just tells you the type of person he is and I think that didn’t go unnoticed by me and I appreciate everything he did my first year here.”

Going back to when he got out of prison in 2009 and was signed by the team, Vick said he is appreciates the Eagles organization for allowing him to rehabilitate his career as a football player and as a man.

“They’re a lot of good things to talk about,” Vick said. “There have been a lot of things that I have accomplished on and off the field, especially off the field and that supersedes everything.

“That’s one of the goals I set coming out of prison and being incarcerated, I’ve accomplished that more than anything I did on the field”

Eagles Fall To Saints on Last-Second Field Goal

Cary Williams and his teammates are stunned after heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Cary Williams and his teammates are stunned after heartbreaking loss to the Saints. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham kicks the game-winning field goal. Photo by Webster Riddick.

New Orleans Saints kicker Shayne Graham kicks the game-winning field goal. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—The worst thing about facing a team with a playoff losing streak is that you hope it doesn’t end when that team plays your squad.

The New Orleans Saints came into Saturday’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field against the Eagles having never won a playoff game as the visiting team.

The Saints road playoff woes came to an abrupt halt in their last-second 26-24 win over a stunned Eagles squad in front of 69,144 fans who were hoping their team would make a deep run into the postseason.

“I just think that everybody is disappointed that we’re not moving forward,” said head coach Chip Kelly.

In a game in which the lead changed hands five times, Shayne Graham’s 32-yard field goal with time running out ended what was a surprisingly good season for the Eagles. New Orleans will take on the Seattle Seahawks in a divisional playoff matchup next week.

The loss was especially painful to an Eagles team that felt they were a better team than New Orleans.  At the end of the day, the Birds also know that they have themselves to blame.

“Even when they were up 20-7, I felt like we were going to win the game the whole time,” said left tackle Jason Peters.  “We just didn’t pull it out. I felt like we were the better team. We were moving the ball on their defense. We just stalled out on a couple of third and shorts and we had to clear them out.”

After the Eagles had taken a 24-23 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles to tight end Zach Ertz with 4:58 left, the Saints got a 39-yard kickoff return from Darren Sproles, who appeared to be headed for a touchdown if not for an illegal horse-collar tackle by cornerback Cary Williams.

While Williams tackle kept Sproles from scoring, the Eagles were penalized 15-yards which moved the ball to the Eagles 48. He said it was the only thing he could do to keep Sproles from scoring.

“I did whatever I could to get the guy down. I’m the safety valve,” Williams said. “(Sproles) broke outside the contain.  It was just me and him out there. I made the best decision I possibly could. My thoughts were I was just trying to get him down. It didn’t matter whether it was a horse collar or whatever. I didn’t want him to score to at least give our defense the opportunity to stop them.”

The Saints forced the Eagles to take their final two timeouts while moving the ball down to the Birds 14 and running down the clock to three second to set up Graham’s field goal.

“It sucks because there was nothing we could do, but watch,” said Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who gained 77 yards on 21 carries. “They killed us slowly. It was a terrible feeling.”

In what was a close game, the Eagles had their issues on both sides of the football. The offense, which averaged over 400 yards during the regular season, was sluggish and inconsistent in the first half and much of the third quarter.

“We just weren’t executing,” said Foles, who complete 23-of-33 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns. “I was missing throws and the Saints was doing a great job. We just weren’t executing as an offense.”

After getting a pair of Drew Brees interceptions in the first half, the Eagles offense couldn’t take advantage. Oddly enough, the Eagles had a 7-6 lead at the half thanks to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Foles to wide receiver Riley Cooper.

But the Eagles also missed a 48-yard field goal and the offense had hard time getting out of its own way.

Early in the second quarter, the Birds drove down to the Saints 15. But lost huge chunks of yardage on a botched tight end screen that cost them eight yards and a sack on Foles that cost them another 11 yards. Two plays later, Henery missed that 48-yard field goal.

“We need to come away with seven instead of three to begin with and we ended up kicking a field goal,” Kelly said. “I think they did a better job of executing in those situations and their red zone defense was better than our offense.”

The Saints surged to a 20-7 third quarter lead by scoring a pair of touchdowns—a2 4-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Lance Moore and a four-yard run by running back Mark Ingram.

New Orleans was able to move out in front because of its running game which kept the Eagles defense on its heels. The Saints rushed for 185 yards on the ground with 97 coming from Ingram.

“That was the story of the game,” said Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin. “We have been keeping teams under 100 yards all season long. This was the wrong game to give up a good rusher. It was way too much and it showed on that last drive.”

The Eagles recovered from their offensive funk late in the third quarter and scored 10 straight points to cut the lead to 20-17.  The Saints would add a field goal, but the Eagles last drive to put them ahead.

The frustrating part for the Eagles offense things didn’t really get things moving until late in the game.

“It was very frustrating, we had lot of opportunities that the defense put in our favor,” said Eagles center Jason Kelce. “We just didn’t get it done offensively. It took a long time to get it going.”

Eagles Players Say Cooper-Williams Scuffle Was Just Football, Not Racial

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

PHILADELPHIA—In a video that will probably get more viral than the upcoming Floyd Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight next week, controversial Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper got into a fight with teammate and volatile cornerback Cary Williams.

The video, which was shot by Comcast Sportsnet Philly, shows Cooper going after Williams after both players hit the ground during a passing drill on a ball thrown by quarterback Michael Vick.

Cooper attempted to grab Williams around the neck. Williams threw a couple of overhand slaps to Cooper’s helmet.  Teammates restrained both players. Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin pulled Cooper away while Eagles assistant coach Todd Lyght separated Williams.

But as Cooper was being pulled away, Williams broke away from the coaches and stalked after Cooper and could be faintly heard on the video saying, “I ain’t the N-word you f—k with.”

That was apparently a reference to a video in which Cooper using the N-word at a Kenny Chesney concert after a dispute with an African-American security guard.

Also in the video, Vick looked like he was trying to calm Williams down.  Then Vick was spirited away after Williams appeared to have shoved him.

Inside the locker room, the players said the situation came down to two guys competing for the ball and nothing to do with anything beyond what happens in football.

Of course, it does beg question, have the Eagles Black players really gotten over Cooper’s comments at the Kenny Chesney concert?

“It’s just something that happens,” said Boykin. “People are out there competing and practicing hard everyday. It’s just competition.  They’re moving on from it.”

“The ball was in the air and they both kind of came down on each other. …it was over quick, we broke it up and forgot about it and we practiced. They guarded each other six or seven times and nothing happened.”

Cooper himself played down the incident and chalked it up to two guys fighting for the football.  When he asked if Williams said something vicious to him, Cooper jokingly said, “Y’all ready for Washington.”

When asked if things were normal with his teammates since returning from his leave of absence in aftermath of him using the N-word, Cooper said everything was okay with his teammates both African-American and white.

“Everything is completely 100 percent normal, talking to everybody, everybody talking to me,” Cooper told reporters after practice Thursday. “We’re all real close. Everybody, Cary included. He’s my boy. We’re both in the NFL. We are super competitive. We both want the ball. In one-on-one’s, he wants to have a pick, I want to have a reception. That’s just what it is.”

Since the controversy regarding the video came to light, Cooper said no other player from any team around the league during the preseason has brought it up during the heat of competition in a game or during practice.

Williams, who played with the Baltimore Ravens last season, does have a history of trash-talking with opposing wide receivers regardless of race.  When the Ravens played the Eagles last season, Williams was fined by the league for a fight with DeSean Jackson, who was also fined.

Ironically, Jackson was seen on tape talking with Williams after the fight. He said that he told Williams that they have to focus on Monday night’s game against Washington.

“We got a game and in the end that’s all I care about,” Jackson said. “We got a game to win Monday and that’s it.”

Throughout the preseason and in training camp with the Eagles, Williams has been getting into fights with any receiver who lines up against him.

When reporters gathered around Williams locker after practice, he refused to talk to reporters about the altercation with Cooper.

Wide receiver Jason Avant dismissed the incident as the something that goes as a normal part of what goes on at a football practice. He said the real problem was that it was caught on camera.

“That’s what happens on a football field, we just can’t let you guys see it,” Avant said with a smile.

Riley Cooper and Childhood Memories of Racism in Sports

By Chris Murray

For the Philadelphia Sunday Sun and the Chris Murray Report

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was welcomed back  by his teammates a week after being caught on camera using a racial slur.  Photo  by Webster Riddick.

Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper was welcomed back by his teammates a week after being caught on camera using a racial slur. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADLEPHIA—Watching the fallout of Riley Cooper being caught on tape using the N-word and the series of apologies he made in the aftermath was something that hit me in a very personal way.

It was yet another example of how racism is so deeply woven into the American fabric that its almost as normal as celebrating the Fourth of July.  For the record, I believe Cooper is truly remorseful for his actions.

At Eagles camp on Tuesday, Cooper’s teammates, black and white, welcomed him to their joint practice with the New England Patriots. To his credit, Cooper made no excuses and told reporters that he didn’t want his teammates to forgive him. He wanted to earn their respect.

“I told them I don’t want you to forgive me because that puts the burden on you,” Cooper said. “I want it all on me. I told them that I apologize. They can tell it was from the heart and they know I’m not that kind of person.”

Cooper’s African-American teammates said they wanted to move on from this and they welcomed Cooper back. To be honest, it’s always a good thing to forgive, but forgetting is usually the hard part. That will come in time. To that end, Cooper should be allowed to turn the corner and be judged by his actions from this point forward.

Sometimes when African-Americans form friendships with white people there’s always this weird fear that somehow something like Cooper spewing out the N-word is going to come out, especially when folks get mad at each other for whatever reason.

The last year I played organized football was in 1976 when I was about 14-years-old. I was a grossly undersized, but quick running back in the Catonsville, Md. Midget League.  I was the only Black player on my team, the Vikings.

I didn’t really care about that because this is football. The only prejudice you should have is against the guy not wearing the same jersey as you.

Our first game of the season against the Jets, I was having a good game. I nearly ran back two punts and I was running the ball well from scrimmage, averaging about four or five yards per carry.

About midway through second quarter, I witnessed something I would never forget.  On an off tackle play I got hit by the Jets defensive tackle who was this big, bulky black kid—whom I’ll call Al.  After the whistle, there was a shoving match between the two of us.

As this is going on, one of my lineman (also our middle linebacker) whom we’ll call  John-comes to my rescue and proceeds to push the Black kid off me.  Just when the refs are separating the warring factions, my teammate John yells “Fuckin, Nigger!” to Al.

I was stunned. Part of me wanted to kick John’s ass because he didn’t have the right to say that to a brother. But at the same time, John was my teammate, I needed him to block for me.

I then glanced over at Al and he had this pained look on his face as the refs ushered him back to the huddle.

I don’t think that John and I spoke to each other again for the rest of that season unless it pertained to football. I mentioned it to my mother in passing, but I don’t recall how she reacted to it.

Since I was the only Black guy on the team, I noticed that the rest of my teammates went out of their way not to say or do anything that could be perceived as offensive. But as pervasive and ingrained as racial prejudice was in those days, it was bound to come out again.

About three weeks later, we were having a practice scrimmage against the Saints. Near the end of the practice, my Vikings were on defense. The Saints had this really fast running back, Mike, who was black and was killing us on the sweep.

On the last play of the scrimmage, John, whom I mentioned earlier, was playing linebacker and I was playing free safety.  When Mike was running a sweep to his left and our right, John and I were waiting for him. John had his arms around his legs and I hit Mike up top with the most vicious hit I’ve ever delivered.

Without using my helmet, my shoulder was planted into his chest and I knocked him to the ground. When I peeled off him, I noticed that Mike was in pain and had tears in his eyes. I crushed his ass, I thought to myself.

As I walked back to the huddle, I was fired up because I hit that kid hard. For a few fleeting seconds, I felt like I was Mel Blount, Mike Curtis, Donnie Schell and Gary Fencik all rolled into one.

But the euphoria of the hit quickly receded into the evening shadow because Billy, another one of my white teammates said: “Wow, did you see how Chris hit that ni- ,.”

Before he could get out the “igger” part, my teammates descended upon and told him to pipe down.  Ironically, it was John, who used the N-word earlier in the season, leading the way to tell our teammate not to use that word in front of me.

As I think about it, I just shake my head.

Those incidents from my youth made it difficult for me to have friendships with white people for a long time because I wondered when the next “N-word” or any other form of racial slur was going to drop.

Which brings us back to Cooper and the Eagles.  I hope that Cooper’s counseling is successful and that what happened at the Kenny Chesney concert will be a teachable moment for him.  But I know that there are more than a few African-American players who may never get past it, and I can understand why.

That’s because when the word “nigger,” comes out of a white person’s mouth, the intent is to harm.  It’s an evil word that cuts at the very humanity of African-Americans.

And before you say “But I hear black people use it all of the time toward each other,” don’t. I have my issues with it being perceived as a term of “endearment” among blacks because, again, it cuts at our humanity.

It also shows just how much more racism must be cut from the American fabric in order to help us move forward.