In today's Rewarding Moments In Washington History presented by Maryland Lottery My Lottery Rewards, we continue "A History of Firsts Inspiring the Next" series by looking back at Jason Wright becoming the NFL's first African American team president.
Jason Wright does not view himself in historic or transformative terms. He just does not see himself as "that guy." When he boils down his role as the Washington Football Team's president, he simply wants to do a good job each day.
However, there is no denying the history he has made, not just for the Washington franchise, but also for the entire NFL when he became the first African American to hold the president title. While head coach Ron Rivera has tried to make Washington a championship-caliber team on the field, Wright has taken steps to do so off the field by revamping the business side of the organization to be inclusive, innovative and forward-thinking.
He did not think he would have an opportunity to help reshape the landscape of the NFL, but the knowledge of his family history, which has deep roots in activism, and his experience has prepared him as he tries to take the franchise in new directions.
"In the tough moments where I don't feel like I know what the hell I'm doing, when I've made a mistake, I do anchor on my family, their history, their stories of resilience and what I know is part of me," Wright told Brian Mitchell on the Washington Football Talk podcast. "And I carry it in my subconsciousness and in my spirit."
Wright's father often used the words "uplift the race" when he was growing up, and he has tried to live up to that phrase ever since. He graduated from Northwestern and received his MBA with high honors from the University of Chicago-Booth School of Business. That led him to being a partner in McKinsey & Company's Washington, DC office, where he focused on expanding the value of large, complex organizations through operations and culture transformations.
The platform served as a springboard for a multitude of inclusive initiatives, including a global inclusion strategy and McKinsey's anti-racism and inclusion strategy. In addition to being a voice discussing racial equity in corporate America, he also co-founded the Black Economic Institute, which analyzes racial wealth gaps.
That background, as well as seven years of experience as an NFL running back, made him an ideal candidate in the eyes of team owner Dan Snyder.
"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," Snyder said. "He is a proactive and assertive advocate for inclusion of all people and will set new standards for our organization, and for the league."
Wright's method of bringing social change through an economic lens is one that has worked for him, but several others in his family have utilized other methods.
Activism has often been a common theme on his mother's side of the family; one of his uncles, Charles Gomillion, was the plaintiff in a United States Supreme Court case against red lining, which is method of making sure voting power disproportionately favors non-African Americans through the creation of political districts. It was a landmark case that played a factor in red lining becoming an illegal practice.
In addition, one of his cousins was a trained doctor at Dartmouth and chose to work in underprivileged communities as an entrepreneur, and his father was jailed for participating in a peaceful protest on his college campus.
Wright's grandfather helped start NAACP chapters in east Texas and was forced out of his job in teaching because of his involvement. He went from town to town searching for work, but no one would take his calls or look at his resume. He tried to look in other career fields, such as retail, but he met the same barriers. Eventually, he became a farmer and sold insurance out of necessity. And even then, a racially-motivated militia tried to take the land because of his involvement with the NAACP, Wright said.
"They went through so much, and I think about the trauma that they must have experienced, the shame that my grandfather experienced. But when I think about my Papa, and when I saw him as a youngster, there was nothing but this almost stoic stability and pride that came associated with him."
Today, Wright and his sister are committed to creating change in their own ways. He wants to hold up his end of the bargain, he said, set in place by his ancestors before him, and his method of doing that is finding opportunities for marginalized communities, particularly African Americans. That's why he has filled Washington's business operations with a diverse group of people like Chief People Officer Andre Chambers and general counsel Damon Jones. Doug Williams, who was the first African American to start in and win a Super Bowl, serves as his senior advisor. And women like senior vice president of media and content Julie Donaldson and senior vice president of external engagement and communications Julie Jensen have also carved out pivotal roles in reshaping Washington's culture.
Wright believes more change is on the way, but he has found that bringing in a diverse group of leaders has a positive influence in organizations. He notices that when discussing bigger issues like the team's culture change, having another voice that has a different experience helps alter a business's approach.
"The wording we use might be different," he said. "The channels we use to reach fans might be different. And I think the same is true for me as a person of color, as a Black man in this role. ...You're just better and sharper when you have diversity in the room."
Wright hopes that diversity will continue to expand throughout the NFL. It is an empirical fact, he said, that businesses with diverse leadership make better decisions. Whether or not he foresaw that future for himself, he is part of a new frontier in the NFL, and joins a long list of groundbreaking African American figures in the NFL.
"I have learned...to not discount the importance of visible role models," Wright said. "Just the image of someone like me being in this role having some early success is meaningful, hopefully, to folks and it flips that mental piece around opportunity."