Riley Cooper: Sad, But Not ShockingFootball, The Fam — By The Fam on August 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm
I don’t really know where this article is going yet, but it’s something I need to just write out to get this Riley Cooper issue off my mind. It won’t be about the Warriors, though I’m sure I’ll find a way to weave them into this. As sports fans, I’m sure Cooper’s words have impacted you in some way. It’s caused me to walk back through some of my experiences. Some are sports-related; some aren’t.
Like most everyone, I’ve heard the n-word from the mouth of a white person way too many times in my life. I’m tired of confronting people about it. Hearing Philadelphia Eagles receiver Riley Cooper use it at a country music concert was not surprising. It’s just another sad case of the racial issues prevalent in our society.
I have cousins and uncles who have used that word (in the late ’80s, an uncle of mine who was a huge 76ers fan was once babysitting me and called Boston’s Danny Ainge “a stupid nigger,” which left 12-year-old me confused as hell). I went to school with white people who used it, played basketball and football with people who used it, and have worked with people who used it. I’m glad to have separated myself from acquaintances, and some former friends, who used it. In all these cases, 100 percent of the time, it was not an isolated incident. It was/is part of their vocabularies.
So I have a hard time believing Cooper when he says that’s not who he is. Drunk or not, if you say that shit, it means you say it regularly. Maybe he’s an exception, but my experience says it’s not likely.
I was raised solo by my mom, but once in a while, I would see my grandma on my dad’s side. While I never remember her using the n-word, I clearly remember the time she told me and my sister to stay away from the black ladies in K-Mart because they would kidnap us. I couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old.
She was the only grandparent I ever met, and she was disgusted with my sister and me when we dated non-white people in high school. Thanks for the great life lessons, grandma!
The first time I remember hearing the n-word was in the sixth grade. In between classes, a book dropped from my locker, and I asked the guy whose locker was below mine if he could grab it for me. “I ain’t your nigger!” was his response. I had no idea what that word meant, but I got the gist of his point.
So I get home from school that day, ate dinner and my mom asked me to wash the dishes. “I ain’t your nigger!” was my response. I thought it was funny. She didn’t. She lit into me. Realizing I didn’t know what it meant, she calmed down and gave me the background on the word from an educated, intelligent perspective.
That was a huge moment in my life. I’m not sure many parents take the time to do that properly with their kids. Today, as a father of 8- and 6-year-olds, I’ve already taken advantage of several situations to speak with them about race.
No lie — my mom once had to tell me what a “c*nt” was after I heard that my cousin Kent (not one of the racist ones) hated being called that name. Not knowing what it meant, but wanting to be a pest, I said it to him like 120 times in 30 seconds in front of my mom. Love ya, mom!
Besides my mom, several factors have also had an impact. I believe sports is one. Most of my early heroes were black. Sleepy Floyd, Tim Hardaway and Mitch Richmond. Ronnie Lott and Eric Wright (the O.G. version, not the recent DUI version). I even loved Renaldo Nehemiah. I discovered rap music very early on too. Run DMC, Sugarhill Gang, Whodini and A Tribe Called Quest were some of my favorites.
But that is the same for a lot of racist white people too. I’ve heard white people yell “nigger” at the TV screen in a sports bar before. I know of white guys who only listen to rap music but are racist as hell.
Truly becoming friends, not just acquaintances, with people of different races and cultures only helps to educate and understand. At a very impressionable time in my life, from fourth through eighth grade, my neighbor and best friend was black. That and my mom may have been the biggest impacts for me.
After that locker moment in sixth grade, I began to hear the word more and more. One thing about racist people is they think it’s okay to use the word when no black people are around.
I spent the night at a white friend’s house in eighth grade with two other Hispanic guys. We were walking around town and saw a group of older black kids a few blocks away. One of my Hispanic friends yelled, “Niggers!” and we were soon in a foot race for our asses. We hid in someone’s backyard shed for at least 30 minutes until the black kids finally gave up.
And while we’re sitting in the shed, the white kid starts saying we were lucky to escape because black people have extra calf muscles that make them run faster and jump higher. So now I’m stuck in a shed with racists and my dreams of playing pro sports have just been shattered. I stopped hanging with those kids the next day.
My sophomore year on the JV basketball team, one of the white players came up to me and another white kid and said, “We’ve got to keep these niggers from taking over the team.” By then, I had built up some guts and told the kid not to say racist garbage to me, and if he was any good at hoop he wouldn’t be worrying about the black kids taking over the team.