Tanya Snyder Talks Breast Cancer Awareness and the Redskins’ Upcoming Pink Sunday

The wife of owner Dan Snyder, herself a survivor of the disease, is passionate about helping other women cope.

By: Carol Ross Joynt

This weekend, for the fourth year in a row, all 32 NFL teams will be literally in the pink for breast cancer awareness. Players will run, throw, tackle, block, and otherwise take each other down while wearing pink gear, including gloves, wristbands, cleats, socks, skullcaps, and mouthguards; on the sidelines, coaches will have pink caps. The coins used in the toss will be pink. Leading the movement for the Washington Redskins is owner Dan Snyder’s wife, Tanya Snyder, a breast cancer survivor who was diagnosed in 2008. Already this week she has hosted an “all-star survivors celebration” at FedEx Field for 20 area women who are battling the disease. The afternoon-long program included pampering, practical advice, and gifts of Gap jeans and Redskins jerseys. These same women will be her guests at the game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. “They will be helping cheer on the team as they arrive on the field,” she says.

Snyder’s cohost for the survivors event and her ally in the breast cancer awareness cause is former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, whose mother, Nancy, was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, as well as local alumni of the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, who helped the Redskins start their charitable breast cancer awareness program in 1999. Today, Nancy Cooley and Tanya Snyder are doing well. “I eradicated the breast tissue so I wouldn’t have to have to do chemo or radiation,” says Snyder. “I exercise just about every day. I hope with nutrition and working out, I will be okay.” Subsequent to her surgery, Snyder did genetic testing to find out whether it was in her genes, but it was not. “I was concerned for my two daughters,” she says. She described the wait for the results as “nerve-racking.”

We talked with Snyder by phone today (with a member of the Redskins public relations team listening in), and along with a little bit about football—“Robert Griffin III is great,” she says—we discussed her cancer and her passion for breast cancer awareness and helping those who have the disease.

How did you find out you had breast cancer?

I had just had a mammogram a few months before. I was fine. And then I had a lump, and I waited for it to go away, and it didn’t go away.

When did you go public with your diagnosis?

As soon as I did a biopsy. As a matter of fact, it was my husband [who] announced it kind of publicly, at a Larry King [Cardiac Foundation] event. We always participate in that event. He told everyone. I was shocked. Dan is not typically very public on private matters.

Do you feel that being involved in helping others redirects your fear or anxiety about the disease?

I do. It helps me to get out there and be at the forefront. I’m very happy to be part of the American Cancer Society. I listen acutely to any [new] information that’s passed on. I talk to so many women who have never had a checkup or a mammogram. Women have a tendency not to take care of themselves, and it is heartbreaking. This is an important month. I want to think we make a big difference.

Is it true that the Redskins were one of the first teams to go pink?

We’re very proud to be able to say that. We started game by game in 1999. We partnered with ZTA in trying to make a difference, to raise awareness. [The idea] was, “Put a pink ribbon on. Think about your loved ones.” I was passionate about the cause my entire life, but you don’t think you will become part of the statistics.

What will we see at the stadium this Sunday?

A sea of pink. That’s how we’ve been able to make a difference: a 300-pound lineman in pink shoes. I will be out with my family, players’ wives, and coaches’ wives, handing out a card with a ribbon on it at all the entrances. Even my son. We have all-around participation. We ask everybody to wear pink.

Do you personally have to talk the players into wearing pink?

Absolutely not. Some of these players have family members who have had breast cancer. Most of these guys are just honored to be involved. We don’t have a shy guy in the house.

How did Chris Cooley get involved in starting the survivors event?

When Chris’s mother was diagnosed five years ago, he and his brother had a hard time making her feel like she could open up to them. She was scared when they shaved her head. Chris thought, “We have to help her get something so she’ll feel good about herself, like a wig.” The first thing he realized was the cost involved. It was difficult to find nice wigs. He came to the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation and said, “I want to help my mom,” and asked what we could do to help women . . . to help them get wigs, their makeup done. So we have a special day to help them through what they are going through.

Do you miss having Chris on the team?

Chris will always be a part of the Redskins family. I adore him. It was so great to see him yesterday. He makes this a special event.

Since this is a political season, too, and you and your husband support [Mitt] Romney, I have to ask which one you want more: Romney as President or a Super Bowl trophy?

I’m a big believer in fiscal responsibility and working hard in life. I want a better America . . . and in our world, I would love to have the Super Bowl [trophy] for my husband.