Jan 31, 2021 - Sports

Washington Football Team president: I don’t think our name is “that weird”

Washington Football Team president Jason Wright concedes there are mixed views around the interim name for the NFL franchise, but told Jim VandeHei in an "Axios on HBO" interview that he doesn't "think it's that weird."

The big picture: The WFT changed their name in 2020 after years of complaints that the old one was a racial slur. Wright was hired after the name change.

Regarding the name change, Wright says he came from the bubble that considered the old name derogatory, but upon moving into his new role he “found out that the debate of folks closer to it was much more nuanced than that.”

  • Still, he told "Axios on HBO" that “the right thing is to move forward into a new name, brand, and identity that captures the best parts of our history and allows us to innovate and move into the future.”
  • The thinking prior was ‘Hey, we need to get something that can be a great placeholder,’ but there’s also precedent for a team that is named after the place it’s in.”

The big picture: Wright, 38, is the NFL's first Black team president. He told "Axios on HBO" that systemic racism — or racial bias, as he prefers to call it — exists everywhere but is "more obvious" in the NFL.

  • "I think [systemic racism] is more obvious because 70% of the men on the field are Black men, right? So I think it just, the optics of it are different," Wright said.
  • "I've experienced racial bias ... through high school, college, and definitely in my professional career."
  • "When you have any moment of accomplishment, accolade, appointment ... the first question in people's minds is, 'Is this tokenism? Is this a PR stunt? Do they deserve it?'"
  • "No matter what the track record was before ... It's something that every Black professional experiences at some level."

Wright played in the league from 2004-10 as a running back for the Falcons, Browns and Cardinals, serving as the Cardinals' union rep during the 2011 lockout before retiring.

  • He earned his MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in 2013.
  • He became partner in the Operations Practice at the consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, where he specialized in organizational diversity and inclusion.

Between the lines: The WFT has long been embroiled in conflicts and lawsuits regarding its prior name and various sexual harassment allegations.

  • In the interview, Wright said the organization and its staff are committed to changing the culture.

The bottom line: Washington's troubled past, paired with a worldwide racial reckoning in which the NFL is more than just a bit player, puts Wright in the spotlight as the team and league both work to change their image.

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