Monday, the sports world got to witness history being made as the Washington Football Team hired Jason Wright to be their team president. Wright, who spent six years as a running back for the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, and Arizona Cardinals, becomes the first Black person to hold the position in NFL history.
Welcome to the 21st Century, Washington Football Team
Wright got an MBA from the University of Chicago, a psychology degree from Northwestern, and comes over from consulting firm McKinsey and Company. There he led the Black Economic Institute and developed their anti-racism strategies.
His business acumen and playing career make him a terrific fit for the position. That should not be up for debate. What is up for debate is how much credit the Football Team should get.
Washington and owner Dan Snyder have been under fire for decades for their old name and logo which they finally agreed to change this offseason under much pressure. The difference this time compared to other efforts was that it came from sponsors like FedEx making their voices heard. Snyder has even gotten calls from minority owners (some of whom were looking to sell their own stakes) to sell the 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,” – Dan Snyder per CBS News
If Snyder’s quote above were how he felt, why did it take the sky falling for this to come to fruition? Why in the 100-year history of the NFL is Wright the first? He certainly isn’t the first to be qualified.
And that is where the issue lies. The timing of the move casts aspersions on Wright’s deserving of the role. Rather than focusing solely on his accomplishment warranting it, that shadow of a doubt will follow him just as it has many Black people who assume positions of power. That doesn’t just pertain to the NFL either.
In a league where 70 percent of its players are Black and have been predominantly so for quite some time, this is far overdue. Much of the talk around diversity in the NFL centers around coaching.
While that is a significant issue, getting faces like Wright’s in those upper-level positions is just as important if not more; as we can see, people often hire those who look like they do.
The Washington Football Team's new president Jason Wright says he is the best-qualified person for the job, regardless of his race. (Via @FirstTake) pic.twitter.com/eUuGOhg42D
— The Undefeated (@TheUndefeated) August 17, 2020
That isn’t to say there is a conscious effort to hire one race over another. Rather, all things being equal, comfort with a candidate is more times than not the tie-breaker. This is true for all peoples, we just see the extreme in the NFL, a league with a troubled past when talking race and inclusion in general.
So, yes, we should be celebrating Wright and his historic accomplishment. But we should hold off on lauding this as forward-thinking. After all, in 2020 some would have you believe they don’t see race. Those same people will point to this as a sign of the times changing. What they won’t say is that the decision had to practically be forced upon an organization that was averse to modernizing.
Now with Wright, head coach Ron Rivera, and assistant coach Jennifer King, Washington can finally say they have joined the 21st century. Congratulations!