Hernandez, Cooper Turn NFL Attention Away From Football

Copyright ABC News

As training camps the length and breadth of America kick into full swing you’d be forgiven for assuming that all the developing stories in the NFL would involve on-field action. You’d also be wrong, because two of the biggest stories in the league have absolutely zip all to do with football. There are other stories, thankfully, and I’ll discuss them at length in another post later this week when I attempt to analyse some of the events that have taken place on the football field, as opposed to off of it. Keep reading to find out my take on Messrs  Hernandez and Cooper.

I’m sure you’ve all seen or heard about Aaron Hernandez’s, ahem, “legal misdemeanours” and his likely impending imprisonment. I’m no legal expert but Hernandez looks like he’s in a lot of trouble, and the charges are almost unprecedented for an NFL player. O.J Simpson is the most similar case, of course, but for a younger audience while it may seem easy to compare the case to Michael Vick and his dog fighting conviction, Hernandez’s punishment is likely to be far, far more severe. However, like I said I’m no legal expert, so I’ll focus on the football implications (an area in which I’m arguably better placed to comment!). The Patriots offense was unique over the past two seasons thanks to their ability to run two tight end sets with dynamic play-makers at both positions, something they’ll no longer be able to do. Shane Vereen will attempt to pick up some of the load by continuing his ascension towards becoming a top tier NFL running back, but as the case has always been with the Patriots in the Belichick era the team will only go as far as Tom Brady takes them. The former Michigan QB turned 36 this week and is no spring chicken, yet he remains healthy and has shown no signs of slowing down just yet. The Pats D was improved last season, so if that improvement continues then the offense can afford to not entirely replace Hernandez’s production. And before you ask -no, I don’t think Tim Tebow is about to morph into an elite NFL tight end. Although it wouldn’t surprise me to see Belichick line him up there from time to time. BB keeps his cards close to his chest, so it may not be until the first regular season game that we can see just how much the offense has morphed in Hernandez’s absence.

Another incident that has come to light with no relation to football is Riley Cooper’s racial slur that was captured on film while he was at a concert at his team, the Philadelphia Eagles, home stadium Lincoln Financial Field. Cooper used the N-word, which was is shocking behaviour in any culture but particularly so when you consider Cooper plays in a sport and for a team where a large majority of the players are African American. Racism is a very sensitive issue, rightly so, and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has come in for some criticism for his decision not to cut Cooper but to send him away for rehabilitation. Kelly’s decision can be looked at, in my opinion, in one of two ways. He has, perhaps, been too lenient with Cooper and should have immediately released him in order to send a message that he and the franchise do not tolerate racism. The other view is that Kelly has admirably not bowed to public pressure, and offered Cooper the opportunity to redeem himself if he applies himself to his rehabilitation and is accepted back into the locker room by his teammates. Either argument could be presented with validity, but it should be noted that, crucially, the situation still has a ways to go before it has fully played out. Coopers teammates might not forgive him, or Cooper himself may not tread carefully as he embarks on his rehabilitation. It’s an incredibly complicated situation, far more complicated than some have made it out to be. Michael Vick unsurprisingly has come out in support of giving Cooper a second chance, while LeSean McCoy has said he can no longer view Cooper in the same way as he did before. Both are African American, which shows just how split opinion on the subject is. I’m not sure what will happen, but I do think that Kelly has put a target on his back by offering Cooper a second chance. It’s not something that is ideal for a first year coach in the NFL and it’s unfortunate that an event like that has reared its ugly head now, just as Kelly is running his first professional training camp. Team unity is a key component of any successful sports team; right now it’s a component the Eagles lack.

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