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5 Things Every HR Pro Can Learn From Riley Cooper and the Eagles...

By now, you've undoubtedly heard about Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Go read the summary here, but I'll give you the cliff notes: Cooper's drunk at a country music concert, goes off on a minority security guard using a racial slur, someone tapes him and the thing goes viral in his workplace and the world at large a month or two later.  His career is likely over in a industry that features 68% black teammates.

Nasty stuff.  Here's five things to remember as HR Leaders from the Riley Cooper scene, and possible use in any internal training you do: Cooper

1. The language that pop culture is forcing on us is not for everyone to use once consumed. One of my favorite writers deals with the volume of this word in the hip-hop music world by replacing the slur with the word "Ninja".  As in "My Ninja".  Clever way to deal with it.   To be fair, Cooper's use of the word "Ninja" was angry and not in the spirit of attempting to belong.  Still, with so many people consuming hip-hop, don't kid yourself for a minute - the word's not available to everyone.  So take that into account, especailly if you've got your personal playlist turned up or available for all to see.  

2.  Your worst moment can now be captured for the world to see.  It's fair to remind your workforce of the reality, I think.  One bad moment captured by someone can cause a lot of damage.  See the next point for why.

3.  Our Professional Conduct Policy can be used to evaluate what you do outside of work - if media like video, audio or text brings your outside behavior into the workplace.  All it takes is someone to share it and odds are, it's viral inside the company.  I'm shocked this doesn't happen more than it does.

4.  Leadership is judged based on how swiftly it reacts.  I'm not going to tell you the right answer, you just know you have to get there quickly.  The deal is on tape - it's not a rumor.  That means people expect quick action.

5.  Once you're out on paid leave, you're probably not coming back.  Cooper got sent out of the Eagles workplace for "therapy".  Odds are he's not coming back. I've written about this before here.  You know it's true, you don't put anyone out unless you expect they're probably not coming back.   Once someone is out, it's probably just details at that point.  

Race issues have been around the workplace forever. You've probably had a few dropped into your lap.  The Riley Cooper scene feels different because it's the perfect mix of smartphones, race baiting and employee relations.

It's also the perfect mix of what someone's career is worth.  On the extortion front, want to take a guess what the tabloids paid to secure the video in question?

$100-$150 bucks.  

if that doesn't make you say WOW, I don't know what will.



Would the same level of outrage occur if it was Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, then a 3rd string WR?

Aliah Wright

Excellent point. Great advice.


I am also surprised that videos and pics shared on the internet don't hit the workplace (at least mine) more often. But this is a great reminder of the damage that can be done. There are so many great lessons from sports that can apply to the workplace. Thanks for pointing them out!

Elyssa Thome

Great tips for learning from a high-profile and complicated case. To AkaBruno's point, the situation looks different if the scandal involves a player that is much harder to lose. For example, Michael Vick, who has been called on as a sort of spokesperson for the Eagles team on the issue, joined the team after being indefinitely suspended from the NFL in 2007. So be aware of your personal brand, but if you somehow find yourself in a situation where your behavior outside of work has jeopardized your career, focus your energy on becoming a candidate that can't be turned down.

Dee Fancher

Great tips, I'd like to add one more. Don't ask black employees what should be done to the offender and rely on them to give you their true feelings. This puts employees in an unfair position especially those in high profile jobs because they may be worried about how they are perceived and may not give you their true perspective. More to point 4, leadership should act swiftly according to company values. If you say you respect and value diversity in the workplace make a decision based on your values not what the black guy says is okay.


Hey Guys and Gals -

Agree that if it was Manning and Rodgers, it would be different. Star power knows no color. I'd also be interested to see if the black players, at least some of them would come to a star player's defense quicker, which has nothing to do with race and is more about business.

Dee - great advice. Do what's right and what you're committed to. White people have a way of asking in this area instead of acting for sure....


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