Washington Commanders' Jason Wright says NFL teams must simply be committed to hiring minorities, improving diversity

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Washington Commanders president Jason Wright said the numbers suggest the NFL's system designed to help minority candidates isn't working well, but he added that there's a quick solution to improving diversity in the higher ranks of an organization, including head coaches.

While addressing a crowd at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., Wright, who is the first and only Black team president in the NFL, pointed to the Commanders as an example of how to address the league's problem.

Washington has a Latino head coach in Ron Rivera and a Black general manager in Martin Mayhew. It has the only woman, Julie Donaldson, as part of a team's NFL broadcast crew.

"I, in turn, have built the most diverse leadership team in the NFL," said Wright, who was hired around the same time the NFL opened an investigation into the franchise for workplace culture and sexual harassment issues. "Where there's a will, there's a way. This is a low point [for the NFL]. It can very quickly get to a high point if a few folks are committed."

The NFL instituted the Rooney Rule in 2003, and it is supposed to help minority candidates advance to higher jobs -- for coaching and coordinator positions as well as front-office jobs. Currently, there's only one Black head coach in the NFL -- the Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Tomlin -- and two others of color -- Rivera and the New York Jets' Robert Saleh.

Former Miami Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who is Black, filed a potential class-action lawsuit against the NFL and three teams this week alleging racial discrimination.

"The system is not working well," Wright told the crowd Thursday. "With a specific nod to the situation in Miami, I try not to meddle in other people's business. I will say that if ownership is fully committed to diversity and inclusion, change can happen very rapidly."

While Wright said increasing minority ownership is a big priority for Roger Goodell, civil rights leaders on Thursday called for a meeting with the NFL commissioner.

"This is an outrage at best, and requires your immediate attention,'' the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders said in a letter Thursday calling for a meeting with Goodell to discuss the lack of diversity in owners suites and the head-coaching ranks.

The letter added that civil rights leaders "are being asked to do everything within our power, including direct action at next week's Super Bowl, as well as appealing to local municipalities that underwrite and give special considerations to stadiums to pressure the NFL and its owners to get more serious about enforcing the ruling law.''

Wright said the fact that there are no Black owners in the NFL just leads to deeper questions. When he was a partner at McKinsey & Co., a global management firm, Wright focused on economic inequality.

He said that systemic inequalities lead to fewer Black people acquiring the capital to own a team and that the challenge remains creating a situation where there are Black billionaires bidding on teams.

"That should be a goal for all of us," Wright said. "Not because we can check some box or not because we're trying to have optics but because if we believe that talent is equally distributed by God among all people, but we don't see equitable outcomes in society, then something's off."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.