- The Washington Times
Monday, August 17, 2020

Washington hired Jason Wright as team president in a surprising move Monday, making him the first Black person to hold the position in the NFL.

Wright, 38, spent seven seasons in the league as a running back before becoming a business consultant for the District-based firm McKinsey and Company. He will now oversee all business aspects of the franchise at a crucial time for Washington.

The team is in the midst of a name change, undergoing a review of sexual harassment allegations made against former employees and has three minority owners trying to sell their shares after the trio failed to persuade owner Dan Snyder to sell the team.

Unlike former team president Bruce Allen, Wright will not have say over football-related decisions. That belongs to coach Ron Rivera, who Snyder hired to run a “coach-centered” franchise.

Washington unveiled the hiring Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

In an interview with The Washington Times, Wright said there was “no other job” that would better blend his football and business backgrounds. Wright officially begins next Monday.

Wright said he had no problems with staying out of football decisions, saying the jobs should be separate. Instead, Wright said he wants to build a new culture on the business side. He said he was encouraged in conversations with Snyder and Rivera.

“I know where we’re going to go with the culture,” Wright said, “and that’s one where every colleague is fully empowered to raise their voice about how we are leading and how we’re treating one another, where women have more than representative say in key decisions that the organization is making … We’re going to have a culture really based on trust, where every person next to them is very highly qualified, able to do their job and operate with a level of trust and transparency that unlocks performance for the organization.”

Wright brings unique credentials to the organization. After entering the league as an undrafted free agent from Northwestern in 2004, Wright joked he was “fired every day” as he played for the San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals in his seven seasons. Outside of football, he earned a psychology degree from Northwestern and a master’s in business administration from the University of Chicago.

Wright’s hire came as a surprise, given Washington had just hired longtime Snyder-associate Terry Bateman as chief marking officer to oversee the name change and business department. But Wright said he had been approached about the job “relatively recently.”

The hire drew praise from around the NFL, with Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald tweeting his former teammate was a “first-class dude.” The Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization devoted to diversity and minority hiring practices, hailed it as a “historic event” and commended Washington for the change.

Wright said he understood the significance of the role, though downplayed it by acknowledging that Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren effectively held the same position with the Minnesota Vikings. (Warren, who is Black, was Minnesota’s chief operating officer).

“It gives folks like me, when I was still a consultant, that there are goals I can jump to,” Wright said. “There’s space for me in this place. That statement will encourage more and more folks to pursue paths like this.”

Another responsibility Wright will be tasked with is overseeing Washington’s search for a new stadium. The team’s lease at FedEx Field in Landover expires in 2027. Asked if returning to the District was his goal, Wright wouldn’t commit to a location, but said he was excited to dive-in to the project.

Wright, of course, knows what he’s getting into.

There will be skeptics whether Wright can truly accomplish what he wants to while working under Snyder. After all, former executive Brian Lafemina was hired as the president of business operations in 2018 and lasted only eight months.

Speaking over the phone Monday, Wright said he asked pointed questions of Snyder and Rivera. They did the same for him, he said. He felt encouraged by the level of “candid conversation” between them.

“You can never know how things are going to change in the future, but that’s anything,” Wright said. “I’m confident that the only reason things would shift is that if me and the team on the business side do not deliver. And that’s perfectly fine with me.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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