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Riley Cooper, Philadelphia Eagles begin difficult healing process

PHILADELPHIA -- The healing process for the Philadelphia Eagles started Thursday, and that didn't come without some pain.

When the sting will subside is anyone's guess.

There's no playbook for Riley Cooper to turn to for something like this, mainly because there isn't one catchall answer when the fourth-year pro asks himself, How do I fix this?

On Wednesday, video surfaced of Cooper making a racially insensitive remark at a Kenny Chesney concert. The Eagles publicly reprimanded and fined the receiver that same day. Then on Friday, the organization announced that Cooper had been excused from all team activities to seek counseling.

Thus far, this ugly incident has drawn mixed reactions inside the Eagles' locker room. Some players, like Michael Vick and Jason Avant, quickly chose to give Cooper the benefit of the doubt, based on the three years he's spent in Philly. Others have been less forgiving.

LeSean McCoy, walking through the rain and back into the facility from the practice bubble Thursday, told me it's still premature to predict how this is going to be managed from a team standpoint: "It's hard -- you want to forgive somebody, but sometimes you can't just move past certain things so early. You don't say something like that and think things are gonna be OK the next day."

Then he shared his personal thoughts, which likely reflect those of many other Eagles who simply don't have the kind of job security to feel comfortable speaking out like McCoy.

"I'm definitely upset, more because I'm losing a friend like that," McCoy said. "Losing a friend over something like that, I mean, I guess the real him came out that day. The cameras are off, you don't think nobody's watching or listening, and then you find out who they really are. And to hear how he really came off, that shows you what he's really all about."

I then asked what McCoy meant by "losing a friend," and he responded, "I can't respect a guy like that. That's what it is."

What it is for Chip Kelly is a significant challenge six months into the job.

To his credit, the Eagles' new leader didn't simply try to diffuse the situation and push it into the past. He had the good sense to know this isn't the kind of incident you can compartmentalize. It's impossible to handle it with any type of groupthink, because different players have different life experiences affecting their take. And the coach has to know that this will linger, and likely come back to life any time there's any sort of altercation or turmoil, either internally or with another team.

To paraphrase McCoy, that's just what it is.

One unnamed Eagle told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday that he thought Andy Reid would have done more than fine Cooper. That might or might not reflect a widespread opinion in the locker room, but it does underscore a larger point: All Eagle eyes are now on Kelly.

His job is to eventually pare down the 90 players he has now to 53 who can work together. And to be sure, everyone is not on the same page.

"There's no sweeping it under the rug -- it's hard. It's definitely (hard), and I say that and he's a friend of mine. I won't say I lost a friend, because that's definitely not the case," Avant said, a half-hour after Thursday's practice. "For a lot of guys, it's a healing process. I try to put myself in his shoes. It's hard. You know how hard it was for him to stand up in front of the team, the majority of them African-American? Or go into his position room, majority of them African-American? That's just really, really hard.

"I'm just trying to make sure I'm right there next to him, make sure I'm not being like everyone else is."

Then, there are the challenges "everyone else" will present, both internally and externally, for Cooper himself.

In the wake of the Eagles' announcement on Friday, Cooper's timetable going forward remains unclear. If and when he returns to the team, those teammates who haven't written him off will be watching, for certain, and in the dog days of camp, there will be tests. What also will be difficult, in a different way, is the step after this one: facing the opposition.

As Avant sees it, "There will be some repercussions for it and, to tell you the truth, Riley, because there's only (so many) Caucasian receivers in our game that play, he hears a lot, trust me, already."

Those teammates closest to Cooper concede as much.

"It'll be chaos," said center Jason Kelce, who was at the concert with Cooper. "Not just from the opponents on the field, but the fans in the stadium, pregame stuff, he's gonna have to deal with a lot. He knows it. He's in for a tough road ahead. I talked to him for a long time about that. And it's not just for him, it's his family. This is really something that's gonna put a mark on his name. He's gonna do the best he can to deal with that."

The Eagles took a positive first step Wednesday and Thursday, with Kelly, Vick and Cooper all addressing the problem head on and speaking candidly about it.

But that's really all it was: a first step.

This is a complicated situation, and one with a shelf life. For Cooper. For Kelly. For the Eagles in general.

And just as it'll take time to heal some wounds here, there's no way anyone rationally can forecast how this one will play out over the coming days and weeks and months.

It's way too early for that.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer.

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