Sports

First Black NFL president reveals his strategy as he takes over Washington's embattled football team

Key Points
  • Jason Wright, the new president of Washington's football team, told CNBC he plans to start his role with a community based process as he attempts to reshape owner Dan Snyder's club.
VIDEO4:5104:51
Washington's football team president on name change and addressing team culture

In a little under 48 hours since Jason Wright became the first Black team president in National Football League, he was projected to complete more than 30 interviews as he looks to shape a new culture for Dan Snyder's football team in Washington, D.C.

Wright, 38, didn't shy away from the new challenges of the job in his discussion with CNBC. The team is in search of a new name after 87 years, and Wright himself mentioned the current independent investigation centering on misconduct in the club's workplace.

"That has to be dealt with in the utmost seriousness," Wright said of the investigation centered on sexual harassment allegations against the team, which were first detailed in an explosive report this summer in The Washington Post.

"I'm glad we are where we are now. I think we're in the right spot," Wright said on the controversial name change, another issue that recently rocked Snyder's team.

Wright also said he's supportive of the decision to play without fans to start the season due to Covid-19. He also revealed the first phase of his business strategy for the Washington's football team, including building the "right scheme" and identifying those best to implement his plan.

"Getting the right talent in the right places within the right scheme, that's the essence of football," Wright said. "It's a talent game. You find the right person with the unique skill set for the set of plays that you want to run in that game against the defense that you're playing."

Runningback Jason Wright #31 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the ball during preseason NFL game against the Houston Texans at the University of Phoenix Stadium on August 14, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.
Christian Petersen | Getty Images

The plan

Wright comes to the franchise with an impressive resume, which includes an MBA from the University of Chicago, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company and seven years played in the NFL with four franchises, including the Arizona Cardinals, where he finished his career after the 2010 season.

Before retiring from the NFL to pursue his MBA, Wright also assisted the National Football Players Association (NFLPA) with labor discussions during the 2011 NFL lockout.

Those who know him will point to Wright's preparation as a skill that can help lead Snyder's team out of its current PR nightmare.

"He understands the business of football," Troy Vincent, NFL vice president of football operations, told CNBC.

Rod Graves, the executive director at Fritz Pollard Alliance, said Wright would experience a "learning curve associated with this, but I suspect he's going to be able to handle that extremely well."

Wright said his initial business strategy would be a "community-based process." He'll seek input from players, sponsors, fans, "the broader leaders of the [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] so that the identity is a representative of everything that the club is."

"I don't know how we get to a good answer without that [process]. The idea that we can lock ourselves in a room and come out with a name is silly to me," he said.

He'll focus on two areas as he solicits feedback, including the team's new identity, which he said will "be an important driver of value for the franchise.

"It's going to set us up to engage with the public in a different way, which generates that value for the franchise," Wright said. "The new identity will be more than a logo."

Wright added that if the team can establish its new identity the right way, it would "drive value" to Snyder's franchise that is worth $3.4 billion, according to Forbes.

Wright also revealed why he accepted the job despite the team's current turmoil. He said he spent a total of 36 hours speaking with Snyder and his wife, Tanya, about the "opportunity" to lead one of the most iconic franchises in the world

"To be able to shape the identity of an NFL franchise, that's a generational type of decision," Wright said. "Who wouldn't want to be at the helm of that?"

Washington owner Daniel Snyder on the sidelines before a game against the Chicago Bears at FedEx Field in 2019.
Jonathan Newton | The Washington Post | Getty Images

Custom design

But though Wright is accepting the huge task of leading the business side of Snyder's team, while head coach Ron Rivera operates the football side, the question is: How much time will Snyder allow Wright to set the club's new culture?

Snyder said all the right things in his statement when the team announced Wright's hire. He said if he 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."

"We will not rest until we are a championship caliber team, on and off the field," Snyder added. "Jason has a proven track record in helping businesses transform culturally, operationally and financially."

But are Snyder comments just talk – the kind provided when making a new hire, especially one that is the first Black president of an NFL club?

Wright said Snyder is committed to change.

"Dan and Tanya Snyder have set a new direction, not just in word, but also in deed," Wright said. "Moving the bad apples out of the organization as soon as they were found. Those are real tangible commitments. That's more than just talk."

Another question: Will Snyder provide Wright with at least nine years to set the new tone, which is the amount of time given to former team president, Bruce Allen?

"Will [Wright] get the time? I believe so," Vincent said. "You have a new head coach, a new culture and a new team president. [Snyder] understands when you're trying to turn around a franchise, you can't do that overnight."

Graves, the former Arizona Cardinals general manager who signed Wright to his final NFL contract in 2009, said Wright is prepared for the challenge.

"At the end of the day, results matter," Graves said. "Jason has been tested. He's been in high-pressure situations. He's been at the top level of the game when it comes to performance in corporate America.

"He'll settle for nothing less than strong results," Graves added. "My expectation is that he'll perform at the level that will encourage Dan Snyder to give him the time because the results will certainly require it."

It starts Monday

The task is tall, especially for the first Black president in the NFL. League commissioner Roger Goodell led the charge for Wright's hire, which Graves said could "provide an inspiration of hope of what's to come."

"I'm cautious to provide too much exhilaration behind it because there needs to be a sustained effort toward progress and the area of diversity of leadership," Graves said. "This is just the first step."

Wright, though, is eager to start.

"I almost want to move past it and get to work," he said of hoopla around his new job. Wright didn't laud his Black hire, as one team president in 100 years of the NFL's existence is nothing to cheer for.

"But it's important to sit in the moment and recognize when you're the first person of color in anything, it should be recognized but not necessarily for you or me but people like Rod," Wright said. "When you're a Black player, and you see a Black general manager, subconsciously, it opens up the possibilities in your mind of what you can be as a leader."

He added Romeo Crennel, Anthony Lynn and Ray Anderson as those Black coaches and executives in NFL that served as "multiple touch points" throughout his career.

Roughly 27 minutes into one of 33 interviews, and it was time for Wright to prepare for another interrogation from another outlet. He officially starts his new role on Monday.

"It's going to be hard," Wright said of his new job. "But I feel confident stepping into that."

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