Washington has hired Jason Wright as team president, making him the first Black team president in NFL history and only the fourth former player to ascend to that role.
More than any historic aspect, Wright said that what excites him is the convergence of his two worlds: football and business.
“It’s a huge moment to bring those two worlds together,” he told ESPN. “What other job would they come together at such a unique time for an organization at the point our team is? I’m just happy I landed in this role at that time. There are other reasons it’s historic, but that’s a byproduct of me being the right and qualified candidate at this time. All of that is just icing on the cake.”
But Wright said he understands the significance of his hiring.
“What it tries to signal is that, at least in this organization, the hindrances that tend to be in place around Black talent in other places are breaking down,” he said, “and that should send a signal more broadly to the shift in culture that Dan and Tanya Snyder, Coach Rivera and myself are now trying to make.”
Washington had been without a president since Bruce Allen was fired after the 2019 season. The team hired coach Ron Rivera and gave him full power, as owner Dan Snyder said he wanted a coach-centric approach.
Wright’s hiring won’t change that, as he won’t be involved in the football side like Allen was during his 10-year reign. Wright, 38, will focus only on the business side, including operations, finance, sales and marketing. Like Rivera, he will report directly to Snyder.
“[Rivera] is the chief executive of everything that happens on the football side, and I run the business side,” Wright said. “It’s super clear.”
Wright said he began talking with Snyder fairly recently about the job and called it a whirlwind.
“You could say there’s a lot going on, you sure you want to take this on? Yeah, absolutely,” Wright said. “Their actions] made me really confident I could come in here and effect change, that I’d have the ability and autonomy to make real change.”
He also embraces the challenge of coming to the NFL while facing the obstacles of a pandemic and at a time when “the Washington Football Team is at a unique moment, and the NFL, for better or worse, is at the center of so much important dialogue around the role of sport, the players finding their voice about the things they care about.”
Wright will be tasked with helping to change the culture in Washington. Another challenge will be to help locate an area to build a new stadium. Washington has been trying to find a spot in Virginia, Maryland or the District of Columbia for several years. The lease on the land at FedEx Field expires after the 2027 season.
“If I could custom design a leader for this important time in our history, it would be Jason,” Snyder said in a statement. “His experience as a former player, coupled with his business acumen, gives him a perspective that is unrivaled in the league. We will not rest until we are a championship caliber team, on and off the field.”
Recently, one former longtime Washington employee said the team needed to add more diverse voices but also needed to expand its net to search for talent. Too often, this person said, the organization relied on a small circle to choose high-level employees.
Wright’s hiring shows a wider net was cast. He had been a partner in the Washington office of McKinsey & Company, a global strategy and management consulting firm. Among other aspects, Wright focused on getting executive-level managers to help in environmental matters. He also co-piloted McKinsey’s anti-racism and inclusion strategy and helped create the Black Economic Forum.
In Washington, Wright will lead a franchise that has undergone severe changes in the past several months. The organization decided to retire its former name and for now will be called the Washington Football Team. There was also a damaging report in The Washington Post last month detailing sexual harassment accusations against five former employees. Wright said he liked how quickly Washington hired a law firm to investigate the situation.
In multiple stories, ESPN has detailed issues surrounding what many called a toxic atmosphere in the building. Among the solutions many employees, current and former, wanted were a strong leader in the president’s role and more diverse voices. Washington also hired Julie Donaldson to head its communications division, making her the team’s highest-ranking female executive. She will also be the first woman who is part of an NFL team’s radio broadcast.
“The facts say when you have a diverse leadership team, when you give more than one woman a voice in meaningful decisions, you get to better outcomes,” Wright said. “It’s so empowering to all of our employees and particularly those that may have had challenges in the past to actually exerting their voice and bringing their full selves is priority No. 1.”
All of these moves, he said, signal that it’s a “new day” in Washington.
“It’s a pivot from what’s been around in the past to a culture that’s being inclusive, that’s transparent, where people are able to thrive on and off the field,” Wright said, “and on the business side, irrespective of demographic or background, and actually seeing that diversity as a strength that helps us make better business decisions to [being] better on the field. Insofar as it signals a shift, it’s a very exciting thing.”
He said his football background also will help. Wright played seven years in the NFL as a running back with four teams, retiring after the 2010 season to attend business school. He entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Northwestern, where he remains the No. 7 all-time leading rusher in school history.
“When I was a third-down back, I wasn’t worried about what the left tackle was doing,” he said. “I trusted him to do his job, and I do my job. I want to set that norm for us on the business side as well, where we have people that are trusted to where we really believe in the folks working alongside us. Make sure they have the tools to succeed, but then let them fly.”