Reality began to sink in for Jason Wright in the days after accepting the job as president of the Washington Football Team.
Not only was he becoming the first Black team president in NFL history, but he was hired by the organization that was last in the league to integrate, and is in the midst of a transformation in name, culture and identity.
“The pivot in history, given the history of the franchise, is great,” Wright said in a phone interview Monday. “I think that it also just shows a way of evaluating talent where the most qualified professional happened to also be Black. And that that didn’t prevent them from getting the role is a good signal to just all of us who may not be from the majority population in corporate America or in the global corporate ecosystem.”
Wright at 38 is the NFL’s youngest team president and will run the organization’s business operations, with coach Ron Rivera maintaining control over football decisions.
“If I could custom design a leader for this important time in our history, it would be Jason,” owner Dan Snyder said. “His experience as a former player, coupled with his business acumen, gives him a perspective that is unrivaled in the league.”
His hiring drew a commendation from the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which seeks to promote diversity in NFL. Chairman Harry Carson and Executive Director Rod Graves called it a “historic event.”
“The selection is the result of an inclusive process that recognizes the talents that people of colour can offer,” they said. “We hope that it signifies a true change for the manner in which leadership is chosen in the NFL.”
Revamped front office, medical staffs
Until now, Kevin Warren had been the highest-ranking Black business-side executive in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings promoted Warren to chief operating officer in 2015, and he held that post for four years until leaving to become the Big Ten commissioner.
WATCH | Washington NFL team to change name:
Wright, a running back for seven years with Atlanta, Cleveland and Arizona, was a captain for the Cardinals and their NFLPA representative during labour negotiations in 2010-11. Being involved in those talks pushed Wright into the business realm, with this gig representing a blend of his two professional loves.
“I’ve brought back out my nerd and my analytic thinking and learned how to lead businesses through their most trying moments, whether that’s financial duress or a need for culture change or launching a new product, or whatever it is,” Wright said. “And there’s almost no situation that uniquely pulls those things together like this.”
Hiring Wright is another significant change for Snyder, who has in the past nine months fired president and longtime confidant Bruce Allen after another losing season; hired Rivera; revamped the front office and medical staffs; bowed to pressure from sponsors to drop the name “Redskins”; and been forced to confront allegations of sexual harassment by members of the organization from former employees.
As part of the national debate over racism following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minnesota, Rivera also launched internal initiatives aimed at educating players and staff and allowing minorities’ voices to be heard. Wright seems to fit into that, as well.
“I would not haven taken this role unless I credibly believed that there was a new direction and a real commitment to doing things differently,” Wright said.
The club with a storied history dating to its Boston roots in the 1930s and three long-ago Super Bowl titles is in a phase of transformation. It will be called the “Washington Football Team” for at least the 2020 season, with Terry Bateman spearheading the process to determine a new full-time name. Snyder is also seeking a new stadium to be in place when the lease at FedEx Field expires in 2027.
Wright has five priorities to tackle:
- In the short term to navigate a season during a pandemic and contribute to the cultural shift Snyder has pledge;
- Long term to make the most of the name change, enhance the fan experience and get a stadium deal, which he called the “challenge of a lifetime.”
The fourth former player to become a team president, Wright is back in the NFL after several years in business. He earned an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago’s business school and joins the organization after working at a strategy and management consulting firm in Washington, D.C., an area he’s called home since 2013.
Wright, like Rivera, will report directly to Snyder while overseeing Washington’s operations, finance, sales and marketing departments. Rivera, who was a defensive co-ordinator in Chicago and San Diego at the time, said he remembers Wright as a player and has grown to realize the two share many of the same values that should help them work together.
“It is no surprise to me that he went on to achieve the calibre of success that Jason has in his time in the business world,” Rivera said. “Because he knows the NFL firsthand and how fast it moves, I am excited to have him on board to head up the front office and operations.”