The ‘Uniform Geek’ Overseeing the NFL’s On-Field Look
From full-scale makeovers to tiny tweaks, everything runs through Jonathan Wright, the NFL’s Senior Director for Uniforms and On-Field Products.
Last week I introduced you to Doug Murphy, the New York Giants’ director of creative services, who’s been a longtime unsung hero in the NFL uni-verse. Today we’re going to meet another key figure who works behind the scenes on NFL uniforms — but this time it’s someone who works at the league office, not for a particular team.
The impetus for today’s article came about a month ago, when the Patriots’ website published an article explaining how the team had helped push for the lifting of the one-shell rule. One of the people quoted in that article was Jonathan Wright, the NFL’s Senior Director for Uniforms and On-Field Products, and what really caught my eye was this quote he gave about himself: “I’m a uniform geek, what am I going to say. It’s a weird little niche that I’ve fallen into, but I love it.”
Truth to tell, I’d seen Wright’s name come up now and then over the years (he’s been with the NFL since 2014), but I never sought him out because I figured anyone at his level would be, well, too corporate. After seeing that quote, though, I figured we should get acquainted, so I emailed him and asked for an interview. When we sat down for a Zoom call last week, he said that when he saw my interview request in his in-box, he thought to himself, “He finally found me.”
Here’s a transcript of that Zoom call, edited for length and clarity.
Uni Watch: I saw that article on the Patriots’ website where you described yourself as a uniform geek. Is that something that goes back to when you were a kid? Like, were you drawing uniforms and logos during your childhood?
Jonathan Wright: No. And it’s funny, because when I sit in these [NFL] meetings, I always say that I am probably the least creative person in the room. That’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I’ve never been an artist or into drawing or any of these things. I think I was more drawn to the aesthetic and the manufacturing of uniforms.
I think I first realized it when I was in high school. I had a job at Olympia Sports, and I bought a pair of Fab Five [Michigan basketball] Nike shorts, with the full twill Ms on the sides. I spent 75 bucks on them. And you can imagine what my parents said when I came home and told them that, in 1991, I spent $75 on a pair of shorts. But I will say this: I still have those shorts.
UW: So that sort of clicked or toggled some sort of switch in your brain?
JW: Yeah, it did. And I didn’t really realize until I got to college and walked into one of my fraternity brothers’ rooms, and he had hockey jerseys up on the wall. And you know, I was just drawn to them — I started touching them and feeling them and looking at them. He collected game-worn jerseys from enforcers, so they were really thrashed. This wasn’t the era of, “Hey, we’re going to wear a new jersey every game” — it was “Hey, here’s your jersey for the entire season, get out there and play.” So they showed the signs of wear and blood and rips and tears and all that stuff.
He and I ended up starting our own business, selling game-worn jerseys. So, you know, it’s funny: I’ve never done anything in my professional career that hasn’t involved uniforms. It’s so strange.
UW: How did you go from that to the NFL? Because I know you worked for some apparel companies in between, right?