Chip Kelly: Handling of Riley Cooper in 2013 'could be' part of racism claims

ByPhil Sheridan ESPN logo
Wednesday, August 5, 2015

PHILADELPHIA -- Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has weathered an offseason in which several former players have suggested race factoring into his personnel decisions.

Most recently, cornerback Brandon Boykin texted to CSN-Philly that Kelly is "uncomfortable around grown men of our culture." That was widely interpreted to mean African-Americans, in the wake of previous comments by former Eagles LeSean McCoy and Tra Thomas.

After being traded to Buffalo, McCoy said that Kelly "got rid of all the good black players." Thomas, who spent two seasons as an assistant coach on Kelly's staff, said that players sensed "a hint of racism" in the way Kelly ran the team. Thomas was not retained after the 2014 season.

One theory is that the racial implications have their origin in Kelly's decision to keep wide receiver Riley Cooper on the team after a 2013 incident. A video of Cooper shouting the N-word at a security guard at a concert appeared on a website. After the 2013 season, Cooper was signed to a five-year, $22.5 million contract.

"I think that Riley made a mistake," Kelly said Tuesday. "That's part of it. We all backed him. Michael [Vick] backed him. Jason Avant backed him. I think that's part of being in an organization and on a team. I look at that as a specific incident where he was 100-percent wrong. Those are things that should never be said.

"I hope he learned his lesson. I think he regrets what he did that day, every single day. I see that in him. Do I regret what I did in terms of how we handled Riley? No, I don't."

Asked if he saw a connection between the Cooper incident and the recent comments from former players, Kelly said, "There could be. I literally don't spend time trying to connect Y to X to Z. We have other things to do."

A day after sending the text message to CSN-Philly reporter Derrick Gunn, Boykin clarified his comments.

"When you're a player, you want to be able to relate to your coach off the field," Boykin told reporters at St. Vincent College, site of Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. "There were times he just didn't talk to people. You would walk down the hallway, he wouldn't say anything to you. I'm not saying he's a racist in any way."

"We have an open-door policy," Kelly said. "I had a long talk with Brandon last spring when he came in and sat down and talked to me. You can come talk to me whenever you want to come talk to me. We also have a pretty structured day where guys are in meetings. I don't just walk around and say, 'Hey, let me go grab him and sit down and have a coffee together.' When they get here, they're doing stuff.

"In the offseason, we're limited with our time. You get guys for four hours, there's not a time when we're all sitting around, holding hands, singing 'Kumbaya' together. We're in meeting rooms, getting stuff done. They're in the training room, getting stuff done. They're on the training field, getting stuff done. I don't think it's any different from any other head coaches in terms of where you are."

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