In a historic move, the Washington Football Team broke two barriers on Monday when they announced a new team president to replace Bruce Allen who was relieved of his duties in December. The very talented Jason Wright is taking over the role as he becomes the NFL’s first black team president and the youngest to hold the position at 38 years old.
Despite first impressions from football fans that this could be a publicity stunt for Washington, if you look deeper, Wright is extremely qualified for the job. As team president he will be responsible for leading Washington’s business divisions, including operations, finance, sales, and marketing. This fits well with his background working at the global strategy and management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, where he quickly ascended to being named partner in the Operations Practice, based in Washington, D.C.
“From football to business school to McKinsey, I have always enjoyed building exciting new things and taking on the hard, seemingly intractable challenges that others may not want to tackle,” Wright said. “The transformation of the Washington Football Team is happening across all aspects of the organization – from football to operations to branding to culture – and will make us a truly modern and aspirational franchise. We want to set new standards for the NFL.”
Wright also spent seven years as a running back in the NFL with stops in San Francisco, Atlanta, Cleveland, and Arizona, where he was the Cardinals’ team captain and labor-union representative during the league’s 2011 lockout. Upon his retirement, he received his M.B.A., graduating with high honors from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and building on his undergraduate studies in psychology at Northwestern University, where he was also an Academic All-American and captain of the football team.
“If I 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,” Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder said. “We will not rest until we are a championship caliber team, on and off the field. Jason has a proven track record in helping businesses transform culturally, operationally and financially.
There’s no doubt that Wright brings the perfect blend of football and business knowledge to the team president role. But quite frankly, he is not the only black man or minority candidate with qualifications that make him the perfect hire for a front office position in the NFL. Nonetheless, he is the first one to be hired in such a position in a predominantly black league.
Why does that matter? The top reason is because representation is important. NFL players don’t want to feel like they are on the field risking it all for owners and front office staff that don’t necessarily understand their plight or needs. These players want to see people who look like them occupying high-level positions in NFL franchises. The NFL currently only has four Black or Latino head coaches and two Black general managers.
The timing of Wright’s hiring also begs the question, what took so long? The NFL turns 100 this year and there has never been a black team president until now. While the hire is an accomplishment to be celebrated, it should open the NFL’s eyes to the need to take minority candidates more seriously. The NFL has taken steps to solve its diversity problems by requiring teams to interview two minority candidates for head coaching positions, at least one minority candidate for coordinator openings and at least one external candidate of color for front office positions. However, interviewing minority candidates and hiring them are two different things.
Wright’s hiring also comes on the heels of one of the most impactful social justice movements in history following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and when the Washington franchise is embroiled in changes sparked by a forced name change and sexual harassment allegations. Wright is equipped to navigate these sensitive issues but it’s not ideal to embark on such a groundbreaking opportunity with these dire circumstances lurking in the shadows.
With that being said, Washington should still be applauded for making such a bold move. He’ll be joining other recent diversity hires that include the franchise’s first Latino head coach Ron Rivera, the first woman to be apart of a NFL team’s radio broadcast and also the highest-ranking female executive Julie Donaldson, and the first black full-time female assistant coach Jennifer King.
Just like that, Washington has transformed into a franchise embracing diversity and inclusion and is the vehicle for a hire that is long overdue in the NFL. We can only hope this sets a strong precedent for future hiring decisions across the league.
Learn more about Wright’s background and vision for the team in one of his first interviews with Michael Strahan on Good Morning America.