Redskins SVP Tony Wyllie is more than a boss; he paves the way for others
Induction into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame shows his selflessness
It was almost a roundtable discussion. Person after person shared nearly identical sentiments for one man, but they were in different places, at different times, holding a one-on-one conversation.
Asked about their working relationships with Washington Redskins senior vice president of communications Tony Wyllie, seven people described him as selfless, a giver and a person who gives back.
He’s been responsible for the budding careers of many young public relations and communications professionals. Although he’s widely known as a huge champion of advancement for people of color, he notices the passion in any young professional. No matter their race or gender, he is willing to help those interested in earning higher opportunities.
Now his name will go down in history for his hard work and dedication. Wyllie is being inducted into the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame in Atlanta on Friday. The Hall of Fame honors a class of individuals annually who have made strides in their careers and are graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Wyllie graduated from Texas Southern University with a degree in journalism and later worked as part of 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.
His path has been heralded by his commitment to raise the stakes for other black public relations executives. He has helped young professionals fill public relations positions within NFL organizations across the league.
In 1992, Wyllie was a public relations intern for Rob Boulware in the San Diego Chargers organization. He advanced and made a promise to Boulware that he would reach back and help others. That’s been Wyllie’s goal since 1995, and it’s spanned far beyond his work with any organization.
“I’d like to believe that I gave him a good example of work ethic,” Boulware said. “I gave him a good example of dealing with people from a public relations perspective. I was very fortunate in some of the folks who brought me along, and one of the things that they would tell me is that the initial PR stands for people relations versus public relations, that you deal with the people as individuals. You try to treat them the way that you want to be treated.”
“I asked him, ‘What can I do to pay you back for helping me?’ ” Wyllie said of his conversation with Boulware. “And he said, ‘I want you to reach out. You’ll have to work twice as hard, be three times as good.’ And he said, ‘I want you to reach back and help someone the same way I’m helping you.’ So, see, I remembered that promise and I basically kept it. And he’s really grateful that I kept that promise as well, because he reminds me of it all the time.”
Kevin Cooper, once Wyllie’s intern, founder of Point One Group tech company and former senior director of communications for the Houston Texans, told the story of Wyllie’s birth, and Wyllie confirmed Cooper’s story.
“I’m a miracle baby,” Wyllie said. “I was extremely premature, and my mom had miscarriages before me and she had many miscarriages after me. 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. So, I was called ‘one town miracle baby.’ That’s my testimony, so you know God had his hand on me from day one.
“The New York paper had my picture with an incubator and whole bunch of teddy bears. I guess what really drove me was to make my mom proud. She was in a coma for a couple of weeks, for crying out loud, to even birth me. So I always was driven, you know, to make her proud.”
The Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity member is thrilled to be an HBCU grad and honored to be inducted into this year’s class. The theme of his ceremony speech will be about “team.”
“I wouldn’t be here without a strong team, and I worked with them, professional teams, my entire life, including in school. It’s about the team that I had around me.”
Wyllie’s parents, who ushered him into this world, will watch him accept his accolades along with his wife, Natasha, and their children James, 10, and Toni, 8.
Meet some of the people Wyllie has influenced and are part of his team.
Wyllie – from the introduCtion to now
I’ve known him now for about 18 years. I grew up right in the shadows of Texas Southern University, so I’m from pretty much an all-black neighborhood. Texas Southern University is an HBCU. I didn’t go to an HBCU. My first internship, he gave it to me with the Titans. And my second internship, he recommended me to the Rams. And my third internship, he recommended me to the New York Giants. And then my fourth internship, he hired me with the Texans. So it’s one of those situations where he saw something in me that I didn’t see back in the day, and, you know, we’ve just been bonded. — Kevin Cooper
I played baseball at Texas Southern and Tony was the keynote speaker at one of our athletic banquet dinners. That was my introduction to Tony and his speech sparked my interest to opportunities in sports business. After he spoke to us, I reached out to him several times over the next couple of years. I sent him an email on May 9, 2002 expressing my interest in going into the sports business world. He responded and said, ‘Corry, keep pushing in order to break the door down.’ I always kept that because that’s really a motivational quote for me, you always have to keep pushing as you continue to climb the corporate ladder — whether you are an intern or a VP. That’s always stuck with me, and I’ve always kept that email because you really have to have that mindset. He’s really been influential in my career and my professional development and growth. — Corry Rush, vice president of communications, New York Giants
This will be my 15th season with the Rams. My first position with the Rams, I was assistant director of football communications. I started here in 2003. Before I got here, I spent two years of PR assistance with the Seahawks and started out as an intern to Tony Wyllie in Houston, Texas. Before I was an intern with the Texans, I did public relations for Tennessee State University. I was the public information officer there. I went to Tennessee State and graduate school in Middle Tennessee State, and so when the Houston Oilers moved from Houston to Tennessee, they had training camp at Tennessee State, and we [Tennessee State] played our home games at, that time, the Adelphia Coliseum. That’s where the Titans played, so that’s where we played our home games too. So we worked closely with that PR department and Tony Wyllie was the director of PR for the Titans, and that’s how I met him. I’m originally from Gary, Indiana. — Artis Twyman, senior director of communications, Los Angeles Rams
I started as an intern [Washington Redskins], and then I was hired full time and I actually worked with him from, I think it was April 2015 to January 2017. I started with a broadcasting focus at Clemson. Met someone at work through Clemson football who had just finished an internship with the Redskins over the summer. So this was 2012 that she completed it. I was telling her I was looking to do something different, and she just spoke very highly of her time there and Tony, and so she gave me his contact information. I’m sure anybody will tell you Tony literally knows, like, 12,000 people. So let him tell the story; he will tell you I called him and emailed him every week. It was not that frequent. I was persistent, as far as he would say to me. He gave me my first full-time opportunity as well. — Alexia Grevious, senior manager of marketing and communications, Magic Johnson Enterprises
Jason Jenkins, NFL Miami Dolphins SVP of Communications and Community Affairs, introduced us. A few months later, I started working for Tony in the Washington Redskins public relations department … basically learning from the best. — Gianina Thompson, senior publicist NBA/MLB, ESPN
Wyllie the shaper and influencer
When I was first an intern there with the Titans, they didn’t have a hotel room for me that was set up, so I wound up just trying to sleep on his couch. And that’s kind of where we kind of started that bond. And it’s just who he is. He really cares about people, he cares about doing things the right way, if that makes any sense. And you know he cares about doing his job well. He cares about his family and he cares about his children. — Cooper
Tony is absolutely one of those people who really gives back and pays it forward. I just look back on my time in the business how guys like Tony Wyllie have been influential in my career, and I apply that to others and try to help others that are coming up in the sports business world. — Rush
Tony was definitely the reason why I’m in the NFL today. A lot of the stuff I learned from Tony has absolutely nothing to do with public relations communication, just some life things that I have implemented, in how you just treat people, and the relationships you build, and hard work and that type of thing. It’s been beneficial to me. — Twyman
I feel like Tony’s always imparted knowledge. But one of the things that I’ve always kind of admired about him … and he’ll tell the story of how one of his former mentors did it for him, was giving him the opportunity and saying you don’t really have to thank me, just get in there, do your thing and make sure you reach back and help somebody else. And just given his track record alone, the NFL and even outside of the NFL, he has placed so many people in just great, great opportunities. — Grevious
He’s shaped my career because of his bold unselfishness. He wasn’t trying to make me the next best Redskins PR person, but instead he was equipping me to work towards becoming the best African-American woman to make boss moves, whether that was working for him or outside of him. That’s very rare in bosses, because bosses can easily have the instinctive training to be more concerned with how you can make them or the department or that specific company better … but not him … he wanted me to be curious about PR … about the Redskins … about the NFL. He also pushed me to be curious and expose myself to other elements of the industry as well. He made me well-rounded and pushed me to be curious and ask the right questions and always stay true to being a learner and taking the time to listen to anyone, no matter the title or where they work — from the janitor to an executive. — Thompson
Wyllie’s advice is sage and long-lasting
It’s weird how he and I got so bonded. People would see him and they’d think of me, or they’d see me and they’d think of him, and it’s just kind of the personality that he has, it’s such an infectious personality that he draws people together for a common bond. It’s not black, it’s not white, it’s not brown, he just appeals to everybody. You know, he has the ability to have conversations with people that are multibillionaires, owners or players that are fresh off of the practice squad. It doesn’t really matter. I think that he really treats everyone the same, he’s a connector and he cares. — Cooper
Him giving back and being a phone call away when you need some advice. That’s part of my story, and I try to make sure that I play that same role for other people that are in the business now or are trying to get into the business. — Rush
Treat people with respect. I can give you two examples of that. Treat everybody like they are on the same level as you are, and do your best on everything. No matter what it is. If it’s making copies, whatever it is, make sure you try to do it as best as you can and get the job done. A lot of times you’ll have excuses — well, I can’t do it because of this and I can’t do it because of that. Try to eliminate all the excuses and get the job done. — Twyman
The best piece of advice [Wyllie has given] just because now I am very confident, along with the fact that so many people are just kind to me during my journey. But I always, anytime a student reaches out, I definitely make sure I help them. You know, I was in charge of hiring the interns at the Redskins, so I didn’t always pick the students that had the most traditional kind of PR past in school, but really just try to get a feel for people and try to give them an opportunity. — Grevious
It’s not who you know, but the reputation that you create for others to want to meet you and further work with you … and better yet, for people to want to equip you with the right tools and exposure to help you get to that next level … and to continue that cycle by paying it forward to others that come after you (he helps me and I help others who will do the same). Especially with minorities, because we as minorities have to look out for one another. — Thompson
Wyllie leaves lasting impressions
It’s very much a source of pride, of who he is and who we are and what we can be, and you know I’m proud of him. I’m super proud of him, of what he is and who he is and what he’s become. And here’s the thing about it. He’s got a lot more stuff that he’s going to accomplish in his career. He’s a young man, and he’s going to be even greater than what he is today. So I’ve got nothing but pride for him, and what he’s doing, and where he’s going. So this is just one honor that he has, and I know that he’s going to have many more. — Cooper
The thing I think that would resonate with most people is the example he set for African-Americans, how he treats people, the relationships that he has and just how important it is to him to uplift the race and to make sure he is an example that others can follow, and he wants those people to be examples that others can follow. Once you do that, you look up, and now you have a lot of people doing the same type of thing. If I had a chance to introduce him, I would kind of breeze by all the awards he has, but I would talk a lot about the difference he has made in the lives of African-Americans in our country. — Twyman
Yeah, and he is just so about minority advancement. He truly embodies we have to get more black and brown people in these spaces, ’cause you know that’s the only way that our voices are going to be heard and difference is going to be made. So with that I just definitely appreciate how that’s been at the forefront of his mind. He’s just a great leader, someone who’s passionate, who understands that his platform is not for him. It’s not his own, it’s to help others who focus on doing the job and, you know, doing it very well but also teaching and allowing others to come in to understand it, to learn it, to make it their own, to make their own wings and kinda soar. Someone who is extremely just loving and caring, and if you are on his good side, you are good. — Grevious