ESPN “First Take” host Stephen A. Smith said Monday that Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s recent decisions to retain the services of wide receiver Riley Cooper while parting with top players such as running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin “leave a few brothers feeling uncomfortable” in Philadelphia. Smith went on to imply that some in the city wondered if Kelly’s personnel moves were motivated by racism.
“Chip Kelly makes decisions over the last couple of years that, dare I say, leave a few brothers feeling uncomfortable. I think that’s fair to say. We’re sitting there looking at some of the decisions Chip Kelly makes, and I’m like, ‘what’s up with that?’ It’s like you have to be his kind of guy. And I’m like, Riley Cooper’s your kind of guy?” Smith said.
The Eagles hired Kelly as head coach in 2013. Cooper was temporarily banned from Eagles facilities ahead of the 2013 NFL season after he was caught on video using a racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert. Despite that incident, the Eagles signed Cooper to a five-year, $25 million contract during the 2014 offseason. Philadelphia has typically used Cooper as a secondary option and he has never caught more than 55 passes in a season.
Philadelphia cut Jackson amid character concerns after the 2013 season and traded McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso this offseason. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs have purportedly lured Maclin away from the Eagles this week with a contract worth a reported $11 million per year, according to ESPN. Jackson and Maclin led the Eagles in receiving yards in 2013 and 2014, respectively, while McCoy has been the team’s top running back since he was drafted in 2009.
Cooper is white, while McCoy, Jackson and Maclin are black. Smith questioned the logic behind Kelly’s decision to keep Cooper while letting top offensive players leave the franchise.
“This is Philadelphia. I’m always in Philly, and I’m telling you right now you’ve got people walking the streets and, hell with it, you’ve got brothers walking the streets going like ‘What’s up with Chip? I don’t understand this. I really don’t understand what you’re doing.’ Now I’m not saying I know, I’m just saying that it does strike me as a tad bit odd. I’m going to repeat this. Gone, LeSean McCoy, Jeremy Maclin, you know, DeSean Jackson. Staying, Riley Cooper. Really? Really? OK,” he added.
Many have questioned whether Kelly’s personnel decisions make sense from a football perspective, but Smith appears to be the first prominent voice to imply the decisions were made due to a racial bias. The Eagles have reportedly agreed to terms with former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell and former San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore this offseason, both of whom are black.
ESPN suspended Smith from both "First Take" and his radio program in July after he implied former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's wife Janay Palmer could have avoided Rice's attack on her in February 2014. Smith later apologized for his comments.