By Mike Wise
Sunday, September 21, 2008
In the beginning, before the Internet, he was a good boy.
"Chris never gave me any trouble growing up," Nancy Cooley said. "He never skipped school, never drank, never smoked and never did drugs. For three years in high school, he was in the National Honor Society."
Nancy told Chris the reason she wanted him to attend the annual National Honor Society dinner was to "let everyone know you're not just a jock."
Nancy is the mother of Chris Cooley, the burly tight end of the Washington Redskins who unknowingly exposed himself on the World Wide Web last week.
In addition to his laptop skills, Chris hopes to catch some passes from Jason Campbell today and mow over smaller defensive backs from the Arizona Cardinals at FedEx Field, where a hometown mass of 90,000 will then serenade him:
It is cool, awesome even, having watched an introverted, third-round draft choice from Utah State -- a former Sun Belt rube who mumbled through a speakerphone in his first interview as a Redskin -- undergo an incredible metamorphosis, one that now arguably makes Cooley the NFL's most carefree and candid spirit.
Today, he's a say-anything, swashbuckling Pro Bowler with his own blog, who married one of the team's former cheerleaders this past summer. Yes, he imbibes a Yuengling now and then, or something fruity that can be mixed with rum. But he still doesn't smoke or do drugs and rarely causes any trouble.
Except when Chris plays around on that darn computer, as he did last Sunday.
Remember the exasperated Mom from elementary school? The one who had to deal with calls from the principal that began, "Miss Cooley, your son has put raisins up his nose again." Or, "Someone at home needs to tell Chris it's not okay to kiss the girls on the lips in first grade."
Welcome to Nancy's world. Before the Saints game last Sunday, her 26-year-old kindergartner, while posting an innocuous picture of the team's playbook on his blog, forgot to closely check the background.
"It's never a good day when you hear there's a picture of your son's penis on the Internet," Nancy said.
Yeah, that kind of trumps putting dried fruit in the nostrils.
"Dude, I'm an idiot -- I didn't know what I was thinking," Chris said earlier this week. He was worried he had embarrassed his mother. Chris felt awful, almost mortified, over the incident, displaying a childlike innocence in his remorse. "I mean, I wasn't doing it on purpose. I didn't even look to see anything beyond the page."
Well documented by now, Chris was in his paper-strewn, messy hotel room when he grabbed the Redskins' playbook, found a page he figured wouldn't get him in trouble, and snapped the photo in his lap.
While, um, naked.
His blog, The Cooley Zone, under the editorial direction of younger brother Tanner, was already building readership. But the photo, which Chris posted before Tanner saw it, resulted in multiple links on other popular sites -- enough so that six times as many people came to Chris's Web site last week than saw him play in person on Sunday.
Because cyberspace is nothing if not inclusive, straight and gay Web sites copied and pasted, making Chris more popular than most kids from Logan, Utah.
"We probably got 100,000 hits per day the first five days," said Tanner, who took the photo down the day after it appeared and wasn't proud of the reason behind all the new Web traffic. Tanner had just taken his MCAT, the entrance exam for medical school, earlier that weekend, and was besieged with calls after the photo went up.
"A little discretion is all it needed, but we're getting past it now," Tanner said.
Jim Zorn, blessed with a perspective many NFL coaches do not have, was actually angrier about Cooley posting his playbook photo than his tight end in his birthday suit. The FCC, Zorn surely knew, simply does not have as many advance scouts as Arizona.
As usual the real fallout, like most innocent mistakes made by kids, showed up in school.
See, Nancy isn't just Chris and Tanner's mother, who raised the boys by herself; she's also a teacher of business law at a Northern Virginia high school, having moved here several years ago to be closer to Chris.
"I saw your son's blog on the Internet," a couple of students told Miss C.
"We're not going to talk about that," Nancy said. "It was an accident and I'm sorry. And that's it."
One of her male students, a faithful Redskins fan who never misses anything Chris posts on the blog, was kind enough to add: "It's okay. I didn't see it."
"I don't think Chris is rebellious; he's just Chris," Nancy said. "Most of the things he does are in fun. A few just happen to be a little embarrassing."
She also knows they are called "privates" for a reason.
When you grow up, the general public is not supposed to see them, regardless of the reality world Paris, Nicole and the page-view universe encourages us to live in.
Further, it is all right for some life experiences to be kept for you and your family -- even a player gracious enough to let fans inside the existence of a professional athlete in a sanitized league.
If not for team, God or country, Chris, do it for Mom, who doesn't have to explain, red-faced, to her class why her little boy is in Principal Zorn's office again.