CORTLAND, N.Y. -- It didn't reach the scope of the Riley Cooper controversy, but New York Jets rookie WR Ryan Spadola -- formerly of Lehigh University -- was suspended one game in December 2011 for forwarding a Twitter message that included a racial slur against members of the Towson University team.
On Friday, shortly after news broke that Cooper was taking a leave of absence from the Philadelphia Eagles to undergo counseling, Spadola openly discussed his mistake, the fallout and how he tried to turn it into a learning experience.
"It was the hardest time of my life, behind my father's death," Spadola told ESPNNewYork.com.
Spadola, one of Lehigh's top players, retweeted a friend's message that included the N-word. He was suspended for the school's FCS playoff game against North Dakota State. In retrospect, he said it was good to step away. He believes Cooper will benefit as well from the time away from the team.
"I can understand where he's coming from in terms of a leave of absence," said Spadola, an undrafted free agent. "I was in that situation and you try to get yourself re-gathered, back on par, so when you come back to full speed, you don't let it affect you."
Spadola, a former high school standout from Howell, N.J., said he wrote many apology letters. Asked to describe the reaction of African-American teammates, he said: "Everyone knew me and knew my character. I had a black roommate for my first two years of college, and we had a great bond. They knew that wasn't anything I stood for. It was just an unintelligent decision I made. They're all my brothers. They came up to me and they all shared their thoughts. We were able to keep the train moving forward and not let it affect us."
Spadola said he met with the athletic director and the president of the student-athlete council to devise a plan to help student-athletes deal with "the good, the bad, the ugly" of social media, as he put it. He said he wanted to be proactive amid the fallout on campus, so there was a roundtable discussion that included the captains and star players from various teams. It was a hard lesson learned, he said.
"The biggest thing I learned is to sit and take an extra 15 seconds and think about what you're going to say -- think before you react," said Spadola, who graduated with a 3.54 GPA. "It's unfortunate, in this day and age with the media, things get blown out of proportion. But at the same time, there are barriers and lines you have to watch. Something you may say, you may not mean in a harmful way, but others might take it in a harmful manner."
Spadola said he let himself and his teammates down because "I couldn't help the team reach the ultimate goal that year. I don't want any person -- winning team or losing team -- to have that dagger put in them."
He has a new team, trying to defy the odds as he battles for a spot on the 53-man roster. He's a 6-foot-2 receiver with 4.4 speed, and he has made some eye-catching plays in camp, including a diving catch on a 50-yard pass from Geno Smith.
Jets coach Rex Ryan already has a nickname for him -- Spicoli, named after Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli character in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." The last names sound alike and Spadola, like Spicoli, has blond hair and blue eyes. Spicoli was a pot-smoking surfer dude. Spadola doesn't mind the nickname, but he added with a laugh, "I don't replicate him in any way."