I wasn’t sure if there would be a player’s day off this week. I’ve written before about the way the workweek can get reset here — “there’s a Monday night game, so Saturday is Friday” and that kind of thing — and, to account for the long trip westward, Coach Zorn has moved travel day to Friday. So for all I knew, Tuesday would transform into Wednesday to adjust.
Not the case, though. It’s the players’ day off as usual, and Chris Cooley spent a huge chunk of it leading tours through Redskins Park. The tours were just a small part of an event Cooley organized for women battling breast cancer.
The day started with a catered luncheon — pink tablecloths looking unusual on the tables in Redskins park — and then quickly split the women into groups, where they cycled through a variety of stations. Cooley’s tour was one stop. Another was a makeup station, where the women were given a free makeup kit and makeover instruction from volunteers from the American Cancer Society’s Look Good … Feel Better program.
There was a station where the women were fitted for new wigs, and were also given headscarves and turbans.
And there were also new jeans — nothing to do with fighting cancer, but just because if you’re helping people look good, everyone likes new jeans.
All the women also received giftbags from the Redskins — including practice-used footballs that Cooley sat there and autographed — and the Lansdowne Resort & Spa donated one-hour treatment gift certificates that were raffled off.
“We started the website, and part of it was that we really wanted to do something as far as charity goes. Lots of guys have a ‘foundation’ and I guess we could have a general foundation, but we wanted to do cool charitable stuff that we were interested in,” Cooley told me. (He has a gift for making air-quotes audible without having to do the annoying hand gesture.) “And this was definitely something we were interested in.” Just seeing him lead the tours, I believe him. I went into this event as I tend to go into things like this, half-cynical, but it was visibly obvious that this is something Cooley takes very seriously, even as he attempted to downplay his involvement.
“We said we’ll donate the money, and I’ll definitely donate the time,” he said, “and then I have to give so much credit to everyone that works in our Redskins Charitable Foundation and Community Relations department, because the Redskins really set everything up. They contacted everyone and did an excellent job, so that’s a cool partnership that I have as far as doing anything like this. They’re willing to work with me and make it ‘Chris Cooley’s Event’ and do everything for me.”
Jordana Taylor, Programs Manager for both the Foundation and the CR department, tells a different story. “This was one hundred percent Chris,” she says. “He described his idea, what he wanted to do, and funded the entire event.”
It wasn’t just Cooley. As the various tours wound their way through Redskins Park, they ran into Marcus Washington, Antwaan Randle El, Shaun Alexander, and Coach Zorn, and everyone stopped, greeted the women, posed for pictures, and did all that stuff. Coach Zorn even took his time, talked to them, gave them some encouragement, and spoke about friends of his family who had battled the disease.
The woman in the white knit cap in that picture is Jan Eula Burt, one of Cooley’s guests at the event, and she got a particular kick out of talking to Coach Zorn. “Coach was wonderful,” she told me. “I’m a big football fan, so I remember him when he used to play. It was nice that he took time and stopped to talk to us when he’s got a lot on his mind with the game coming up this weekend.”
She also blasted away any lingering shreds of cynicism I had about the whole thing when I asked her what she thought of the day.
“This is my first time going to an event like this, but this is really nice,” she said. “Today is a day, for me, that it was really hard to get out, because it’s a period in my chemo where I’m really low on everything. Now this is my energy. Yesterday I was laying on the couch, just couldn’t move, and this has really been an energy supplement.”
Cooley was characteristically enthusiastic about the day. “Everyone had an awesome time, everyone was really excited to be here,” he said. “I was actually a little nervous last night, but I think it turned out really good. It’s definitely something I would want to do again.”
(UPDATE: A Redskins staffer told me yesterday after this was posted that he had never seen a player as involved with an event, from conception to execution, as Cooley was with this one. On his blog, Chris offers his take on the event, and speaks candidly about what inspired him to create it.)