Washington president Jason Wright: On new name, culture, NFL investigation

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Football Team hired Jason Wright as team president in August. Since arriving he's had to deal with several stories detailing harassment allegations by former employees, a name change and the rebuilding of a culture.

Wright wants to be transparent as the organization tackles off-field issues while trying to resurrect its on-field product.

"There hasn't been a flow of information out of here in the past," Wright said.

Former president Bruce Allen kept a tight lid on information and owner Dan Snyder has previously bucked against more transparency. It has been one of the biggest changes under Wright, who talked with ESPN to discuss topics ranging from the franchise's color scheme, culture, progress on a name and an NFL investigation into the harassment allegations.

Could Football Team be the permanent name?

Maybe. The name can be, in a word, awkward.

Some in the Native American community did not like this as a placeholder, believing it kept Washington from fully moving on from its previous name. Regardless, it's a possible long-term answer. Wright said he has heard from fans who hope this is the winner.

"It's definitely in the running," Wright said. "I don't think anything is off the table. ... With this one, people are excited about the idea of a club has an identity rooted solely in the area it represents. Maybe it's Football Team or it's Football Club. We need to get underneath the why, so no matter what direction we go, we can pull on the heartstrings of folks."

What's the next step in the name process?

Wright said there are "three lanes" that get them to a new name. The first consists of market analysis, algorithms and market testing. For example, there will be a statistical analysis centered around the fan base, testing merchandise possibilities.

After that comes focus groups.

Wright said recently they were in the discovery phase of ingesting fan input. He said it's important to not only understand what name fans want, but why.

The final step, he said, will be engaging community leaders, including Native Americans.

"They're a big part of our fan base," Wright said, adding it's not a monolithic community.

He said they have received more than 9,000 emails about a new name, some giving long answers as to why they want a certain one.

No, he joked, Snyder won't be pulling the winner out of a hat.

When might a name be announced?

It could be another year, though the name might be known internally by early spring. But then they have to go through the trademark process; people have already filed for trademarks on more than 30 potential names for the franchise. That doesn't mean Washington wouldn't be able to get the one they want, but it takes time. He wants to announce the name when they not only have one they like, but also when the logo and design is done.

Wright said he doesn't want a hundred bootleg versions of a logo or design being sold because they announced the name alone.

"The last thing our fan base wants is something messy and embarrassing," he said.

He said the NHL expansion franchise in Seattle has a "dope name": the Kraken. But finalizing the name, schemes and logos took about four years. The Los Angeles Rams' new logo was a two-year process.

"We'll move a lot faster than that," Wright said.

Have there been any hints?

Not really, but Wright did explain the approach. He used the name Red Wolves as an example; that became popular among the fan base this summer.

"We could do something around conservation and animal rights," he said. "That's a compelling idea; an idea around the fan experience of a howl that would fill the stadium. Underneath for us is to understand why. Are we an environmentally savvy fan base across fan groups?"

But later in the interview he pointed to the organization's ties to the military. Late last month, in anticipation of the NFL's Salute to Service month, Wright and senior vice president of player development Doug Williams met with 100-year-old Tuskegee Airman Brigade General Charles McGee. The Red Tails, in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen, has been mentioned as a possibility as well.

"If you're repping this area, you have to go big on vets," Wright said, not just in terms of a name but in the overall actions of the franchise, so a military tie-in wouldn't be surprising.

Snyder previously applied for trademarks for the name Warriors -- it would have been used for an expansion Arena League franchise. That trademarks lapsed, and some Native American leaders said the name would be too closely tied to the former name and, in their eyes, unacceptable.

Will the burgundy and gold stay?

Two other teams in town -- the Washington Capitals and Washington Nationals -- have red, white and blue color schemes to promote being in the nation's capital. But the football franchise has used the burgundy and gold since arriving in Washington from Boston in 1937.

Not everyone wants to shed the past, and they might represent a heavy majority.

"It would take a lot to change the burgundy and gold. You can put that one in pen. I don't see us moving off that at any point," Wright said. "That's not actively being considered. ... I'll revise that if it happens, but I don't see that happening."

The band also has been a staple -- at games and local parades in the offseason -- but nothing has been decided about its future. Wright said the organization is trying to decide how to involve it in a new identity.

Since announcing the name change this summer, Washington has included the year of the franchise's birth -- 1932 -- on letterheads, logos (on the field) and signage.

"We're not an expansion franchise," he said. "That's what anchors us. ... We don't want to lose that so we'll be slow to jettison things, but we have to reimagine how everything fits together."

Is the culture changing?

Washington's organization has changed dramatically in the past year, thanks in part to a series of investigative articles by the Washington Post focusing on past allegations of harassment in the organization. The first article in July led to the firing of two team employees and the resignation of a third.

The most recent article discussed allegations against Gary Edwards, hired in 2014 as the director of the team's Original Americans Foundation. According to a source, Washington has severed ties with Edwards and the foundation. The Post article said the team did so after the paper asked for interviews with Edwards and Snyder about how the harassment charges were handled.

Also, Stephan Choi, who oversaw human resources among other jobs as the chief financial officer, is no longer with the team, a source said. On Tuesday, Washington announced the hiring of Greg Resh as its new CFO. Last week, the team hired Andre Chambers for the newly-created position of chief people officer. He'll oversee the human resources department. In the past, Washington had one person to handle 220 full-time employees, which led to a lot of issues going unresolved, according to multiple former employees.

The word culture has become a buzzword for Washington in the past six months and Wright said he and coach Ron Rivera meet every Friday for up to 90 minutes to discuss it. Wright also said he has an Ask Me Anything session with employees each Friday, and the team has beefed up its parental leave to 16 weeks, which Wright said puts it in line with most in the NFL. Washington also instituted a whistle-blower hotline allowing employees to leave anonymous complaints.

Whether the changes work will likely depend on Snyder, who, former employees said, used to scoff at the mention of improving the culture.

Wright is optimistic.

"Our workforce," he said, "is eager for change."

The NFL investigation

It remains ongoing, according to Beth Wilkinson, the attorney leading the investigation. She declined comment and said there would be no statements about any progress or the timeline.

"The more thorough they are the better," Wright said. "I don't want stuff popping up later; I want to know it all."

He said he's only been in contact with investigators when they want to get in contact with someone to interview. A number of former employees say they have talked with investigators, some have had multiple interviews.

"I am eager for the report," Wright said. "I'm not afraid of it. Maybe it's easy for me to say because I wasn't here. The net benefit is that you can't fix what you won't face."