Washington Football and the Black experience

The change with the Washington Football Team is more than just about its name — there are tangible signs the club’s culture is also changing, and it starts at the top.

Jason Wright just completed his first season as president of the Washington Football Team. When Wright was named to the position last summer, he became the first Black president of an NFL team in the league’s 100 year history.

“I think if anything it should just remind everybody that progress is quite recent, and quite early, on many different topics,” Wright told WTOP.

It was only in 1962 that Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell not only broke through tackles, but also broke through the Washington Football Team’s color barrier. When the team made a trade with Cleveland for Mitchell, it became the last team in the NFL to integrate its roster.

Team owner George Preston Marshall made the move so the Burgundy and Gold could use D.C. Stadium, later named R. F. K Stadium, which was built on land owned by the federal government. Without an integrated roster, the Washington Football Team would have been barred from using the new facility.

It was still difficult for Mitchell, despite his success on the field. In an interview with James Brown for CBS Sports Showtime, Mitchell recalled how Washington was not ready for its team to have a Black star. Reporters even told Mitchell they could not keep writing about him as much because he was Black.

Fast forward to summer 2020 and Wright is being hailed by team owner Daniel Snyder as the perfect choice to be in charge of his franchise. Wright’s resume speaks for itself. Not only was Wright a player in the NFL, but also after his playing days, armed with a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, he enjoyed a successful career in the corporate world.

Wright believed it was only a matter of time before he would connect with Snyder while networking as a business executive with management consulting firm McKinsey and Company in D.C. The business networks of Wright and Snyder intersected at the same time the Washington Football Team was looking for a president to replace Bruce Allen, who was fired after the 2019 season.

“We started a series of conversations that I would describe as surprising,” Wright said of early meetings with Snyder. “We didn’t talk necessarily about business and finances, but values and culture. Words like inclusion, transparency and accountability were used. It led to vulnerable talks where we each shared past mistakes and how we would do things differently in the future.”

Now, in 2021, Wright and recently-hired general manager Martin Mayhew are both Black. Ron Rivera is one of only three Latino head coaches in NFL history. It has not been easy to get to this point, and there is still so much work to be done. There are not enough coaches of color in the NFL, and Wright is the only Black president.

“I don’t know that it’s as productive to ruminate on the past,” Wright said. “I’m excited to sort of be a bit more forward looking and actually more so think about the ways that we can create more pathways. Now that we’re here, what can we do to accelerate the number of people of color in administrative roles with real decision making authority?”

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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