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This summer, Jason Wright was hired as the President of the Washington Football Team, making him the NFL’s first black President. This historic achievement comes after a summer of turmoil for the football organization.
After pressure from activists, shareholders and corporations, the team finally changed its name from a derogatory racial slur for Native Americans. But soon after, the Washington Post broke stories of allegations of a culture of sexual harassment at Washington’s football organization.
It seems the organization is turning over a new leaf, as Wright talks about changing the culture in Washington. We’ll sit down and discuss his plans for Washington’s past and future.
Produced by Richard Cunningham
- Jason Wright President, Washington Football Team
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast, how is the Black Lives Matter movement trying to move people of color up the employment ladder. But first this has been an eventful summer for the Washington Football Team. The team has dealt with pressure from activists, shareholders and corporations to change its name, which is a racial slur against Native Americans. Then came revelations detailing a culture of sexual harassment within the football team.
KOJO NNAMDIEarlier in the summer the Washington Football Team hired Jason Wright as its new president, the first Black person to head an NFL team in the nation. Jason Wright joins us now. Jason Wright, thank you so much for joining us.
JASON WRIGHTOh, it's a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDITell us about football. How did you get your start in it and what drew you to it?
WRIGHTWell, you know, it's interesting. My dad pushed me towards football. I ran track. I did dance and musical theater and he just wanted something to toughen me up a little bit when I was young. It's a classic hyper macho decision. But I ended up loving it, because, you know, people don't realize it often. But it's a very mathematic game. It's a game of strategy and it's one where you build, you know, lifelong bonds with folks. I fell in love with it very early, and it, you know, colored my life from '87 all the way until I retired as a professional player at age 30. And I had so many forms of experiences along the way.
NNAMDIJason Wright, the season, an unusual one to be sure, just got underway with a stunning victory for the Washington Football Team over the Philadelphia Eagles. A lot of people say that's, because they changed their name. But what do you hope for Washington's Football Team this season?
WRIGHTWell, I think on the field I have the upmost confidence in what Coach Rivera has done. And we have a young team. I know there will be ups and downs. And so, you know, I'm very excited about this week. But keeping it in context of where they're at. But what I'm most excited about is this win on Sunday is evidence of the cultural transformation that he's set in place. He set new expectations for how he wants leaders to lead, on what it means to be a selfless team member to play within the scheme. And we started to see the first fruits of that.
WRIGHTAnd I'm inspired to do the same thing on the business side where we actually have real issues that we need to shift. We have to shift our business culture in maybe even a more dramatic way than the football culture is being shifted. And so, you know, I'm excited to see Coach help this young team ride the ups and downs. You know, come out of this with a successful season and use it as inspiration to build our business side in the same way.
NNAMDIWhat attracted you to Washington and why did you take the position here?
WRIGHTWell, I think this is a unique opportunity for me. You know, my identity as a football player as I talked about from a young age, you know, all the way through the formative experiences of getting cut on and off rosters as an early professional and running out of money and living with family trying to make it, all of that forming me in ways as a leader and individual.
WRIGHTMarrying that with the life I have lived since then, which as a business professional and an analytic thinker and how to transform businesses in their moments of crisis, all at a moment where the organization's biggest unlock is actually around culture, the way you treat people, inclusion, developing a family atmosphere where people are excited to be a part of the organization, which is very much in line with my values and the way I like to lead, all of that based in the DMV area where I already live. And it just seemed like it sort of dropped from heaven.
WRIGHTNow with the lack of sleep I'm having I might argue that, but it very much fit so many things that I desired. And there's so many things on the horizon. We're going to have the sort of social impact that I want to have as well from this role.
NNAMDIWell, you've been in the football environment and in the business environment long enough to have known that you wouldn't be getting a lot of sleep right now.
WRIGHTRight. That's right. I knew better. I knew better.
NNAMDIYou are the first Black president in the NFL and obviously I'm not going to ask you how does that feel, because we all know how John Thompson, Jr. -- the late John Thompson, Jr. famously resented that question when he said, "It's suggested that I was the first Black person talented enough to be there when the facts of the matter were that I was just the first Black person who got the opportunity to be there." But you initially wanted to move past that and just get to work. But you realize that it is in fact important. Can you talk about that?
WRIGHTYeah. That's right. You know, I did want to (word?) it as well and just move on because, you know, there's a little bit of like the chip on my shoulder that says, if I were a white dude I wouldn't actually have to answer these questions. And I could just get focused on moving forward with the business and building my team. But there is something to be recognized not for me and not because I did anything special to be the first fill in the blank. But because whenever there is a first fill in the blank somebody or multiple people came before that really tread the path that allowed me to walk into this role fairly seamlessly.
WRIGHTYou know, I think of Kevin Warren, who is the Commissioner of the Big Ten who was in everything, but name only, you know, the president of the Vikings for many years. He put a lot of crack in the proverbial glass ceiling that allowed me to get here. And so many others like him. And even just to honor the Black leaders I played under in the league. I had a Black head coach as many people don't get the opportunity have in Romeo Crennel.
WRIGHTI had Black general manager in Rod Graves. My of my former coaches is one of the best leaders I've ever been around. He's one of the few Black coaches now, Anthony Lynn. And these people were inspiring to me in a conscious and unconscious way that it's worth recognizing in this moment as I take this, you know, first title.
NNAMDIWell, the entire sports world seems to be focusing this season on combating racism and fighting for police accountability. How do you see the Washington Football Team joining the fight against racial injustice?
WRIGHTYeah, I think what has been remarkable about this team is the organic leadership from the bottom around the players and what they're animated on. And how it is really a multiethnic coalition on the players' side that wants to do something. And not just on policing and criminal justice, but on behalf of the marginalized in particular Black folks in general even from an economic and educational standpoint. And we're helping shape, you know, a broad strategy that builds on what the players have already done so effectively and that's raise awareness with demonstrable displays that have made a difference in the national dialogue.
WRIGHTI know people will debate if this made a difference. I think it's unequivocal that it's made a difference and a positive difference and the frequency and tenure of the national dialogue on this topic. And I think Coach Rivera's position has allowed them to do that with even more creativity and freedom by effectively saying, look, I read the Constitution. This man read (word?) Constitution and said, I see in there space for people to have various forms of expression including protests that raise awareness and push dialogue that allow us to evolve into a more perfect union of which this document was a down payment. And I'm going to affirm that. I'm going to allow the guys on the team to express themselves however they want.
WRIGHTAnd so we're going to keep that in place and continue to encourage that. But I do think there is a bigger thing that we can do and that's to think about the things that create disparate conditions both economically and socially across communities of color and the role that we as the Washington Football Team can play with other leaders in the area to do something about that. You know, there are things we can do through our social activities, our charitable activities around education and communities that need it. And the guys have some great ideas there that I don't want to get out in front of.
WRIGHTWe can do something around voting. We have a big voting plan. We're letting the stadium be used for voting. And beyond just having the stadium be opened up for voting we want to put some real structure around a get out the vote effort where we support voters as they're in line with food, with water, with hands on help to ensure people can make a difference. And there's a set of other things in our mind as well.
NNAMDIWell, a few months ago, the team changed its name after years of pressure from activists. What are your thoughts about the name and the change? By the way, we got an email from Steve who says, "My suggesting keep the name Washington Football Team. No need for Red Tails or Red Hawks or anything of the sort. Washington Football Team is so clean and simple." What's your thought, Jason Wright?
WRIGHTThere are many that feel the same way that they really enjoy the name as it is now. And there is something, you know, simple and (word?) the values of team of namelessness of being part of a collective. You know, no name but team is quite powerful in a philosophical way. So I agree with that and a lot of people are excited about that.
WRIGHTI would say this. I'm glad we are where we are now. I'll say it like that and that we are looking forward at establishing a new identity and more than just a name, because wherever we land whether it's Washington Football Team or something different one of the various things that's been out there is that it's going to re-inform the way that we engage with the communities at large. It will change our charitable giving strategy. It will change the way we engage with fans and engage with sponsors. And hopefully it will be representative of the type of corporate citizen we want to be in the DMV. The type of institution we want to be to build the DMV in a positive way both economically and socially.
NNAMDIOnly have about a minute and a half left. But The Washington Post published two articles detailing multiple reports of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior associated with the team. What plans do you have to address those accusations and that issue?
WRIGHTIt's my biggest priority right now. I'll say it quickly in sort of three tranches. One we've just failed to have the right sort of HR processes and support structures that you'd expect from a professional organization. And, you know, that's very stark, but it's real. We've got to build that and I'm in the process of building that, hiring a head of HR, getting the policies in place, all of the stuff that actually just protects folks and makes it a safe and professional environment.
WRIGHTBut there's also something needed around the way that we lead. And I am in the process of establishing a set of expectations around how leaders lead from an inclusion perspective that ensures that all colleagues of all backgrounds, but especially women not only feel empowered in their current roles, but are brought into the key decisions that are being made for the organization both culturally and strategically, because it is not only going to be good for our people. But it's also going to be good for the business. And if leaders don't make those expectations, if they don't lead in the way we want, they won't be here.
WRIGHTThey won't be here.
NNAMDIJason Wright is President of the Washington Football Team. Jason Wright, thank you so much for joining us. And good luck to you.
WRIGHTThank you so much.
NNAMDIGot to a short -- when we come back, how is the Black Lives Matter movement trying to move people of color up the employment ladder? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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