Former Washington Redskins tight end, artist, radio voice and cancer awareness
activist Chris Cooley joined members of the Loudoun business community Thursday
to share lessons he’s learned in life.
While still young, the popular football player has made quite an impact. Loudoun Chamber president Tony Howard called Cooley an “accomplished leader in all walks of life.”
Cooley and Redskins radio voice Larry Michael shared the stage during the chamber’s Leadership Luncheon. From the get-go, Cooley promised a laid back event “because I’m not a serious person. Feel free to hang out, laugh a little bit.”
While some may have been surprised that Cooley began dabbling as an artist toward the end of his professional football career, art has been part of Cooley’s plan at least since college.
He majored in art at Utah State, explaining Thursday that he intended to become an art teacher and coach football in high school. The notion of playing in the NFL had not entered his mind when by his junior year he had not landed a started spot. However, by the end of that year, he won the starting position and began hearing whispers about draft potential. Eventually, he made it to the NFL, but it wasn’t easy.
“I hated it. It was a full-time job,” he said, adding that the traveling and weight training were constant. “It was brutal. By year four, I loved the job.”
Ultimately, he became a two-time Pro Bowl player, serving as a leader, a skill he had to develop.
“You have to figure out what kind of a leader you are. I’m not a real rah-rah kind of person,” Cooley said, explaining that he learned from others that setting an example is important. “I really believed that’s the way I could lead, by example.”
Cooley became not only a leader, but hugely popular with team fans.
During his time on the team, his mother, Nancy Cooley, developed breast cancer. Through her experience, Chris Cooley found a way he could help people; he became involved in raising awareness.
“You need to support something that you believe in,” he said, adding that something struck him as he helped his mother shave her head during treatment. “I didn’t think really what a big deal it was until that buzzer touched her hair. I could tell it hurt her.”
Cooley said his mother was hesitant to tell others she was going through treatment because she didn’t want them to feel sorry for her. But he learned that those enduring treatment could help each other through it. He began hosting all-star cancer survivors events at Redskins Park in Ashburn.
As for the art, his development as an artist grew from doodles he made during football practice sessions. The doodles looked good, so he started sketching, then painting, then making pottery.
“After three years, I had 400 pots in my garage,” he said, laughing.
So next, he opened the Cooley Galley on King Street in Leesburg. A second studio is in the works next to Lightfoot Restaurant just down the block.
The studio introduced Cooley not only to the art community, but the business community in Loudoun, where Cooley again may become a leader.
But Cooley has yet another career, as a radio host for the Washington Redskins, a job he said Larry Michael helped him transition into.
So while fans won’t be able to see him making any game-winning touchdowns in that burgundy and gold No. 47 jersey at FedEx Field, they can still hear his voice, see some of the other works of art he’s now producing and learn from his lead.