GAITHERSBURG, Maryland — Ray Schoenke remembers driving through the night from Cleveland to Maryland to make it in time for the practice for Washington’s NFL team in the morning. It was 1966, and he had just been cut from the Cleveland Browns and was picked up by the Washington football team at the last minute.
Hoping to get a few minutes of sleep before a grueling day, he rested his eyes, and awoke to his wife driving their U-Haul while also nursing their newborn baby.
Schoenke’s road to playing professional football was never easy, which made it even more remarkable that after joining the Washington team, he risked his career to make a political statement.
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“When I came up to Washington, my continued interest in social issues and political issues just heightened,” Schoenke said.
During one practice in 1971, President Richard Nixon made an appearance at Redskins Park. And in protest of Nixon’s policies on the Vietnam War, Schoenke refused to take a picture with him.
The backlash that followed taught him a lot about the relationship between politics and sports, he said, adding that the relationship is different now than it was then.
“It’s really sad to me that young men’s careers are destroyed over it,” he said. “And I wish it weren’t the case.”
After retiring from the team, Schoenke was selected as one of Washington’s top 100 players and was inducted into the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. He played in Super Bowl VII.
Listen to previous episodes of the Washington Bullpen here.