Having recently agreed to rename his football team to show respect for Native American communities, Washington’s football team owner Dan Snyder has just hired Jason Wright, the first Black American to act as president of an NFL Team. These and other changes currently happening at the Washington Football club represent Snyder’s commitment to restructuring the culture of the team, creating an environment that fosters equality, punishes discrimination, and sets an example for other clubs in the NFL, as well as for the entire sports industry.
At a time when the Washington team has been challenged by a series of controversial issues, Snyder announced his decision to bring Wright on board as president, saying that if he could “custom design a leader for this important time in our history, it would be Jason. His experience as a former player, coupled with his business acumen, gives him a perspective that is unrivaled in the league.”
The 38-year-old Wright, a former running back who played with several NFL teams, most notably the Arizona Cardinals, earned an MBA from the University of Chicago after retiring from the NFL in 2010. In 2011, during the NFL lockout, Wright played a key role in assisting the National Football Players Association (NFLPA) with labor discussions, a role that impressed Dan Snyder enough to rely on his expertise at a time when the Washington team is intent on re-structuring its employee culture.
Wright noted that he intends to include the football team’s entire community and support base in his initial business strategy to redesign the club’s identity and select the team’s new name going forward. The plan is to receive input from players, sponsors, fans, and community leaders around the greater Washington, DC and DMV tri-state area. His goal is to create a new identity for the team that represents everything that the club is and stands for, noting it would be “a community-based process.”
“I don’t know how we get to a good answer without that,” he commented. “The idea that we can lock ourselves in a room and come out with a name is silly to me.”
Wright also commented on his decision to join the Washington club in the midst of the team’s current circumstances, which include Snyder’s decision to overhaul the entire operation. “To be able to shape the identity of an NFL franchise, that’s a generational type of decision,” he explained. “Who wouldn’t want to be at the helm of that?”
Wright noted that he spent some 36 hours with Snyder and his wife, Tanya, discussing his expected role as president while considering this opportunity to be at the helm of one of the most iconic NFL teams in history. And he is undaunted about coming on board precisely at a time when all eyes are on the team to see how it will pull through perhaps the most trying period in its history.
Within the first two days after Snyder announced his hiring, Wright was interviewed over 30 times on his role in Dan Snyder’s plans to rebrand the Washington Football Team. Unflinchingly, Wright demonstrated his confidence and capacity as well as his forthright willingness to address the challenges he faces in his new position, as well as those that the club faces.
These challenges extend beyond just renaming the team. They include reforming the club’s workplace culture as well as the challenges all sports clubs are currently facing in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’m glad we are where we are now. I think we’re in the right spot,” Wright stated confidently. He also noted that he believes Snyder is truly committed to seeing a change in the organization.
Wright also expressed his support for the decision to start the season games without the presence of fans in response to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. Revealing his approach to business strategy, he discussed his plan to select the most suitable players, while working alongside head coach Ron Rivera.
“Getting the right talent in the right places within the right scheme, that’s the essence of football,” he said. “It’s a talent game. You find the right person with the unique skill set for the set of plays that you want to run in that game against the defense that you’re playing.”
Troy Vincent, vice president of football operations at the NFL, believes that Wright can help to steer the club in the right direction, and has faith that Snyder will allow both Wright and Rivera the time required to rebuild the team’s new identity and culture. “He understands the business of football,” Vincent noted. “You have a new head coach, a new culture and a new team president. [Snyder] understands when you’re trying to turn around a franchise, you can’t do that overnight.”
Graves, who signed Wright to his last NFL contract in 2009 as the then-general manager of the Arizona Cardinals, believes that Wright is the right person for the job, and is prepared to meet and overcome the club’s challenges.
Graves commented. “Jason has been tested. He’s been in high-pressure situations. He’s been at the top level of the game when it comes to performance in corporate America. He’ll settle for nothing less than strong results.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was the force behind the impetus to hire Wright, a move that Graves believes can “provide an inspiration of hope of what’s to come.”
Still, it is expected that the groundbreaking task of acting as the first Black president in the NFL will have its own set of challenges.
“It’s going to be hard,” Wright admitted. “But I feel confident stepping into that.”
“I’m cautious to provide too much exhilaration behind it because there needs to be a sustained effort toward progress and the area of diversity of leadership,” Graves admitted. “This is just the first step.”
Meanwhile, Wright is eager to get to the task at hand. “I almost want to move past it and get to work,” he remarked in reference to the fuss being made about his new position. He also admitted that having only one Black team president in 100 years of the NFL’s history is not something to be lauded.
“But it’s important to sit in the moment and recognize when you’re the first person of color in anything,” he noted. “It should be recognized, but not necessarily for you or me, but people like Rod. When you’re a Black player, and you see a Black general manager, subconsciously, it opens up the possibilities in your mind of what you can be as a leader.”
Wright pointed to other Black coaches and executives in the NFL such as Romeo Crennel, Anthony Lynn, and Ray Anderson as figures who provided “multiple touchpoints” for him over the course of his career in the League.
Meanwhile, Daniel Snyder is beaming with pride at his decision to hire Wright, and expressed his faith that Wright will deliver the changes he wants to see at his club, including an improvement in not only the club’s image but its financial outlook.
“We will not rest until we are a championship-caliber team, on and off the field,” he declared. “Jason has a proven track record in helping businesses transform culturally, operationally, and financially.”