The last few weeks have felt like a year. Patiently, nervously waiting for the executioner’s hand to fall, releasing the leaver to cleave us from the past, from any memory of what we once held dear. Some of us held out hope for a last minute reprieve, for an acknowledgement that the powers that be were too smart to do what they were about to do. That they couldn’t be so short-sighted. The pardon never came.
When Jason Wright arrived in the late summer of 2020 to command business operations for the Washington Football Team, there was considerable hope that he was going to bring much needed change to the organization. That was amplified by the fact that the bar for improvement was exceedingly low, with Bruce Allen having occupied many of those responsibilities for the prior decade, as the team’s reputation and stadium facilities declined.
Last summer, I characterized Wright’s responsibilities as those of a metaphorical tailor, stitching furiously to cover up the team owner’s brazen nakedness, apparent to everyone except the deluded emperor himself. I acknowledged it was a challenging job, and I guaranteed that two things would happen. I just didn’t realize how soon they would come to pass.
The first assurance was:
[L]ike Vinny Cerrato and Bruce Allen before him, Wright was going to be tasked with running interference for Dan Snyder and salvaging his reputation while it was at its nadir, having just come off dropping the team’s name and enduring another wave of allegations about having created a toxic organizational culture.
Only a few months after the publication of that article, Wright would play “fireman” for Dan Snyder, deploying a hastily organized Sean Taylor memorial event to try to distract attention from the email scandal unleashed as part of the Wilkinson investigation. At the end of October 2021, Wright promptly lit his “backfire”:
All the metaphorical water in the world wouldn’t be sufficient to extinguish this public relations inferno right now, so Wright needed an alternative. This, after all, is a man with a University of Chicago MBA and training from McKinsey & Company, one of the foremost consulting companies in the world. This is just the sort of situation he had trained his entire professional life for.
Wildfires, like uncontained public rage about a decades-long toxic work culture, are largely unpredictable, and entirely capable of destroying everything in their path, provided sufficient time and fuel. Dousing them with retardants is fruitless, but managed properly, they can be starved of fuel.
In firefighting parlance, a “backfire” is a fire intentionally set to burn the fuel in front of a wildfire so that the larger blaze will have nothing to consume when it arrives. And this is just what fireman Wright has done.
The event turned out not only to be hastily arranged, it turned into a debacle, with Wright at one point apologizing and confessing that he was surprised that fans from around the country might have wanted to attend:
Maybe if @whoisjwright put his foot down to consider proper tributes to Sean Taylor we could of had better optics than his family and friends posing in front of porta-potties and could have honored #21 on the field with his number. pic.twitter.com/sSI7Z4M82d— RedskinsHUB (@RedskinsHUB1) October 17, 2021
For many fans, including many who had lauded his hiring, this was a serious offense on Wright’s part, even if most acknowledged it was in the service of Snyder. It was a considerable strike against him, but nearly everyone - myself included - was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, to wait and see what he could do with the biggest challenge he faced - the re-branding of the Washington Football franchise.
My second assurance in that earlier article was:
[E]ventually, Wright would leave the Washington Football Team with a reputation far less favorable than the one he arrived with. Cerrato, Allen, Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier, Jim Zorn, Mike Shanahan, Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and countless others have had their reputations dulled considerably (or, in some cases, destroyed) just by mere contact with this franchise and Dan Snyder.
Obviously, Wright is still with the team. However, now that the new name and uniforms have been released to terrible reviews, the post mortem should be absolutely crushing to his reputation.
For nearly the entirety of the re-naming process, there have been simmering undertones that the name would have a “military theme.” It’s well known that head coach Ron Rivera fetishizes “military culture,” even going so far as use exposure to it as a evaluation criteria for new draft picks.
Meanwhile, Dan Snyder is a man whose abysmal reputation precedes him. In 2011, a poll by the Washington Post on DC-area personalities found:
Dan Snyder, as the story indicated, generated the most unfavorable numbers of any person or team we asked about. The Redskins owner had 20 percent favorables to 54 percent unfavorable. He also had the fewest “don’t know enough” responses of any person we asked about.
That was a decade ago, and he’s done absolutely nothing to ingratiate himself to DMV residents in the intervening period. Quite the contrary. So what’s the most unpopular figure in the region to do, given the opportunity to re-invent his franchise? Attach himself to arguably the most popular institution in America, of course. In recent polls, 69% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the military (only “small business” is higher, at 70%).
In the hopes that he could parasitize the good will of the military, Snyder likely insisted his team follow that theme. It’s well established that Snyder’s first choice was actually “Warriors,” but that this was ruled out early on as “too Native American adjacent.” In any case, “Commanders” would have to do, and someone, very likely associated with the team, purchased the URL washingtoncommanders.com just hours before the “Redskins” name was announced to undergo review, on July 3, 2020.
This craven attempt to cloak oneself in the respect of the military is a relatively common practice, particularly in American politics, but I was unaware, until recently that the practicing of pretending to be affiliated with military actually has a name - “stolen valor.” The “Commanders” enterprise has been one big “stolen valor” operation, and it has failed on even the most basic of those terms.
William McRaven is a retired United States Navy four-star admiral who served as the ninth commander of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM) during the early part of the last decade. He was considered at one point by President Biden to be his Secretary of Defense. Like most military men and women, Admiral McRaven’s leadership philosophy is firmly grounded in an attention to detail:
“If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” - William McRaven
Since he arrived, Jason Wright’s tenure has been marred by “doing the little things wrong.” The aforementioned Sean Taylor embarrassment could have a white paper drafted about its legendary gaffes, and with the name release, the hits keep coming.
Initially, fans were assured by Wright of “a whole lot of misdirection,” and for some time, it was easy to keep fans off the trail of “Commanders” if only because virtually no one thought it was a good name.
Jason Wright promised fans “a whole lot of misdirection.” Which is weird because there was exactly zero misdirection. Everything the team did screamed Commanders and they never did anything to throw us off that trail. New name. Same organization. pic.twitter.com/hxDDse6wCD— Rudy Gersten (@DCBarno) February 2, 2022
Once Wright announced the unceremonious dumping of overwhelming fan favorite “Redwolves” in early January, however, the wheels quickly came off the bandwagon. In the same video where the declaration about “Redwolves” was made, the team would spoil the announcement of “Commanders” by failing to edit their teaser video sufficiently, and then accidentally providing a local news station unblurred footage of Wright himself sitting with the new name documents in his lap. It’s the little things that can unravel big things.
With the “misdirection” angle brushed off as the public relations hype that it was, we were left to see the visual elements of the reveal on the morning of February 2nd. More misfires.
As part of the earlier leaks, fans were exposed to an early iteration of the team’s “notary seal.” Thankfully, spared from “The People’s Team” mash-up abomination, most fans were relieved to have something simpler, like the design below. Until they had a chance to look a little closer:
My god, they got the Super Bowl seasons wrong! pic.twitter.com/48BPdVQn3I— KyleSmith4GM (@Smith4Gm) February 2, 2022
Yes, that’s right, the five years below are intended to represent the five seasons that the Redskins had championship winning seasons. The only problem is, the final three are actually the seasons AFTER the team won the Super Bowls, in 1982, 1987, and 1991.
Some fans have already tried to excuse away this sloppiness, but I’d argue that it is precisely the acceptance of this sort of half-assed work that has allowed Dan Snyder to run his operation into the ground for over 20 years. Real Washington fans know exactly which seasons matter to this franchise.
With the notion that Jason Wright is a master of subterfuge crumpled at the side of the bed like wrinkly, poorly executed Commanders’ gear, we’re left to wonder what escapade he can mis-direct next. Will it be a failed stadium deal, or one that serves to further alienate the fanbase, or will it be continuing to dawdle on improvements to the worse fan experience in the NFL. Or will it be something else entirely. The suspense is hard to bear.
Do you trust Jason Wright to guide Washington’s football operations effectively?
This poll is closed
Yes, I think he has a tough job and he’s done the best he can.
No, I think he’s simply a kinder, gentler Bruce Allen.
The jury is still out.