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Special Olympics

Redskins PR exec Tony Wyllie says it’s a ‘privilege’ to head to Special Olympics

He spent a decade in Washington after stints with the Oilers, Titans and Rams

For 29 years, NFL executive Tony Wyllie has helped sports organizations and their athletes with branding and communications, including nearly a decade as a senior vice president of communications for the Washington Redskins. Now, Wyllie, 51, is heading into his next chapter as the regional president and managing director for Special Olympics North America. He will start officially on Oct. 7.

“I feel incredibly blessed, and I consider it a privilege to have this wonderful opportunity to join its outstanding, globally recognized organization,” Wyllie said.

Wyllie is one of the most prominent African Americans in sports public relations. He graduated from Texas Southern University with a degree in journalism and later worked in the university’s sports information department. He earned his MBA from Rice. As he advanced in his career, he spent time in the front offices of the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams.

Wyllie is thankful for his new opportunity.

“I believe in what God has planned, and the way this happened was very moving to the point where I really became emotional,” he said. “The Special Olympics is a sports organization, and I hope that I can bring in new partners and to support the movement both in North America and around the world. I think that my contacts over the years with the NFL owners and players, along with my contacts with other sports leagues, will provide a great opportunity to attract new partners to this great movement.

“This is a great time to join, because you know they are working on a next five-year strategic plan,” Wyllie said. “Winter World Games will be in 2021, the Summer Games and the Winter Games. So this is really an exciting time to be joining as we build upon nearly 7 million athletes in 190 countries around the world.”

Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, said, “I sat down with Tony, and I could kind of tell three things right away. The first is that he loves sport. Second is that he had a big heart. And the third is that he had an understanding of communications and brand and marketing that was superessential to helping other people understand sport and art. And so that combination of kind of having it deep in your bones, and knowing the business we’re in, and knowing how to communicate it, that just felt like it was a game-changer for us.

“I think we’re in a moment where the power of inclusion and the gifts that Special Olympics athletes have to teach the power of inclusion, to teach the values of inclusion, to teach the heart of inclusion, that we have a moment here in the country’s history where our athletes are essential to creating the future,” Shriver said. “I believe that our country is starving for role models of inclusion, for people who can show us how to overcome age-old fears, age-old divisions, age-old antipathies even, or breakdowns. And so, Tony’s the guy who can come in, I think, and help us highlight the ways, help us show the country that Special Olympics athletes have a secret sauce for what we need right now.”

Wyllie said Redskins owner Dan Snyder was shocked, but supportive when he learned of his plans.

“Tony has done a great job serving as our senior vice president of communications for nearly a decade with us,” Snyder said. “I’m very proud of this tremendous accomplishment in being hired by the Special Olympics as their regional president, North America. Tanya and I will always hold a special place in our hearts between our family and the Wyllies. Tony will always be a member of the Redskins family.”

Wyllie has a unique story of his own. In a 2017 interview with The Undefeated before his induction into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, he said he was “a miracle baby.”

“I was extremely premature, and my mom had miscarriages before me, and she had many miscarriages after me,” Wyllie said in the interview. “I’m an only child, not by choice. The doctor told my dad and my grandma that only one of us was going to make it. I’m here through the power of prayer.”

ESPN and Special Olympics have expanded their relationship with an eight-year extension of global programming and ESPN’s sponsorship of the Special Olympics.

“I look forward to working with the worldwide leader as we continue to tell stories around our world-class athletes,” Wyllie said.

“There’s a Special Olympics athlete within 10 miles of where you’re sitting today, and I hope ESPN can help us find those stories,” Shriver said. “Sometimes, we don’t even know about them because there are so many, and they’re so hidden in some ways. I’m hoping Tony and ESPN can help us amplify those stories and get them out.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.