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 Friday in Atlanta. 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 the 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. Since 1995, that’s been Wyllie’s goal 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 Wyllie, 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 a 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 he spoke at one of our athletic banquet dinners and for the entire athletic community at Texas Southern. He was the keynote speaker and he gave a speech on his background, and also what he does. I wasn’t aware that these jobs existed, so he really introduced me to it and really sparked my interest in it. After he spoke to us and I really did my research, I think I emailed him or wrote him a letter showing my interest in possibly doing something for the Texans. It was one of the first couple of times I reached out to him. I was unable to reach him. I didn’t get an internship, but I kept at it. I still have an email from May 9, 2002. I sent him an email expressing my interest in going into the sports business world. He responded, he said, ‘Corry, keep pushing in order to break the door down. I’ll keep you posted.’ I always kept that because that’s really a motivational quote for me, is to keep pushing in order to break the door down. You know, when I got my first internship, when I got my first full-time job, you want to move from a coordinator to a manager to a director. Now I’m at a VP level. 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. This is my fourth year with the Giants.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 [Wylie 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 a 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 superproud 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 I 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

Animated short ‘Hair Love’ to show the bond between fathers and daughters Filmmaker Matthew Cherry wants to help ‘normalize’ black fathers

Matthew Cherry’s evolution has taken him from the football field to a stint as a production assistant to music videos. Now, his résumé includes a heartwarming short film in production called Hair Love.

Cherry said the idea for the film came from watching viral videos of fathers interacting with their daughters. In particular, he focused on ones that showed fathers combing their daughters’ hair, which can be both a chore and a bonding experience.

His five-minute animated film is about the relationship between an African-American father, Stephen, his daughter, Zuri, and her hair. Although Stephen has long locks, he is used to his wife doing his daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out and concludes that Zuri’s hair has a mind of its own.

Cherry said the “story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire.” He took to the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to fund the film. His initial goal was $75,000. To date he has raised almost $252,000, making Hair Love the best-funded short film in the history of Kickstarter.

Cherry, 35, is a former college wide receiver. In his four-year career at the University of Akron, he finished with nearly 2,000 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. After college, he played for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2007, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment, landing work as a production assistant.

“I was just Matt the PA, and I was here to work,” Cherry said. “I was here to learn and work the game from the ground up, and that’s how I kind of got my foot in the door.”

He has worked on more than 40 commercials and was a director for more than 20 music videos for singers and entertainers such as Michelle Williams, Tweet, Jazmine Sullivan, Lalah Hathaway, Kindred The Family Soul, Snoop Dogg, The Foreign Exchange, Bilal, N’Dambi, Maysa Leak, Dwele, Najee, K’Jon and Take 6.

Cherry’s film The Last Fall received awards at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) for Best Screenplay and Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) for the HBO Best Feature Film Award. After a limited theatrical release, it made its television premiere on BET in December 2012 and is currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu. He recently released a short film, Forward, which premiered on Ebony.com. He also writes and directs the award-winning web series Almost 30 and Almost Home.

Cherry has one sister (visual artist Caitlin Cherry) and grew up on the northwest side of Chicago.

“Sports was a big part of both of our lives growing up,” he said. “I played baseball ever since I was 5. Football ever since I was 6. Played three sports in high school. Had a full scholarship for football in college. … My existence was very much kind of tied into sports growing up.”

Cherry spoke with The Undefeated about his transition out of football, positive representation of black fathers in the media and normalizing black families.


What was your inspiration for Hair Love?

The biggest, and I think the most important, is just we’re seeing a big lack of representation in that computer-generated, animated world.

We really haven’t seen a lot black characters in that space. Bebe’s Kids was the first animated feature film directed by a black director. That came out in 1992; 25th anniversary was a couple of days ago. Peter Ramsey was the first African-American director to direct a CGI [computer-generated imagery] animated film. That was like two or three years ago, Rise of the Guardians. I think in between that time, there’s really only been those two black directors that have done like a full-length feature film in the animated space.

So we only really have had in recent years maybe four or five examples of full-length feature films that really tell our story. But a lot of times you don’t really see the whole, full family dynamic, particularly in these computer-generated feature films. The biggest thing for me is just like really seeing that lack of a presentation. … I don’t have kids myself right now, but got a serious girlfriend, and one day we’re going to get married and be having kids, and I really wanted to make sure that when I did have kids that they had a character that they could relate to.

When you look at mainstream media, and you see all the images, black hair isn’t made out to be the norm. It’s not meant to be the standard of beauty. We have a very Eurocentric standard of beauty in America, and if you watch TV, if you pick up a magazine, if you look at different things, you’re not going to see yourself represented. … You don’t see your curly, kinky hair on these different models, on these different actors and actresses, on these different music videos, etc. It can really do damage to your self-confidence and how you perceive yourself.

That’s why my biggest thing with this project, first and foremost, was just to really hopefully have some characters that were human, that showed black families in a complex but also simple manner, and just have characters that people can relate to but then try to help increase that diversity in the animation world, because representation is everything. I think my biggest thing is if a little girl can see Zuri or see Stephen, and see themselves represented, if it makes them feel better about themselves, to me, mission accomplished.

Who did you consult with about dads, daughters and hair?

I’ve actually had this idea for a couple years. I always thought it would be cute to do a story about a dad trying to do his daughter’s hair. I’ve seen a lot of kind of online videos, and my main dad friends who have kids, they’re always posting pictures and videos online of their failed attempts of trying to do their son’s and daughter’s hair, and just always thought that that would be a really cool angle to hit, particularly because the whole black father angle. I think, again, in mainstream media, we’re really nonexistent.

We look at a lot of these movies and TV shows, they always depict black dads as deadbeats, nonexistent, abusive. These fathers, they’re getting girls pregnant, running off, that whole thing, and while obviously in every race, every group, you have that negativity, but it’s always made out in the black community like that’s just all black men are. We just are deadbeat dads. We’re not in our kids’ lives.

So for me it was just really important to normalize black fathers, normalize black families. And really I think in starring a young black father and his daughter, I think that would just do wonders to kind of help normalize those images, because it’s important.

What’s been the most difficult part of moving from football to filmmaking?

The most difficult part of my journey is feeling like you have to constantly create your own opportunities. Like, to this day, nobody’s ever hired me for anything. All my opportunities have been self-generated in some fashion. Outside the music video world, from feature films to short films, it’s all been stuff that I either created with some friends or I created on my own, and sometimes it gets frustrating because you feel like, ‘I made this. This premiered at a major festival. Help me.’

Help me get to the next level. I did the work. I followed the blueprint. I did everything that they say you’re supposed to do in order to have somebody help you get to the next level. …

You make all these sacrifices like putting your mom’s life insurance money into the making of your first movie. It comes out, hey, you get a little bit of press, but nobody hires you. Damn. OK. You go away for a couple years. You do random things to kind of stay alive. Then my second feature film, 9 Rides. We shoot it on iPhones and that’s the thing that gets you noticed and gets you an agent and then you realize that all the work you and your team put in mattered after all.

They’ve seen us doing the short films for no budget. They’ve seen us doing the music videos. They’ve seen us doing these feature films and all this other stuff, so. I think the biggest, most difficult part of the journey has just been having to continuously create your own opportunities to kind of continue to put yourself in the game, and I think that there’s a lesson in that, in that you can’t predict what’s going to be the thing that hits, or is going to be the thing that helps put you on. You’ve just got to keep working, keep grinding, and eventually something’s going to hit, or eventually someone’s going to help.

Do you miss football?

Not at all. Not in the least. No, I don’t, especially with all this news about what’s been going on with players’ heads and CTE. I’m actually glad that I didn’t play too long. People have been playing since they were 5 years old, too. You know what I mean? Between Pop Warner, high school, college, you might have your five or 10 years in the league, but if you’re 25 you might have played for 20 years.

How did you prepare for your career after sports?

I studied radio, TV, broadcast and media production in college. I interned at a lot of radio stations, and I was the music director at my college radio station at the University of Akron. I interned up at the Cleveland radio stations, KISS and then on WENZ. And so I would always be kind of dabbling in production, but more of an audio-radio side, and it was something I was really interested in. I loved cutting promos, loved working with all these other kind of post-production programs, and I kind of knew even in college that whenever I got done playing ball I’d either be working in radio or some level of entertainment on the production side of things.

I signed as an undrafted free agent. My rookie year with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I knew after training camp, I was like, “Yeah. I’ve got to get my plan B together,” because it was just so political. When you come in as an undrafted free agent it’s like being a walk-on, so all these things have to happen that are outside of your control in order for you to make it. Guys will generally have to get hurt or traded and all these other things. It’s not really about how you perform, necessarily. It’s about, ‘OK, can you justify putting this guy in over the guy we’re paying millions of dollars?’

And I knew literally in training camp like, ‘Yeah. This is kind of unfair. I’m doing my thing, but I’m still not getting rewarded for it on the field.’ I actually got cut during training camp, and then they re-signed me to the practice squad. That’s how they do it, and I learned when I first got cut by just feeling there was nothing more I could have done. I felt like I balled out. I did everything that I should have done to be able to make the regular team, and it didn’t happen for me.

What’s up next after Hair Love?

This has all been a roller-coaster ride. The biggest thing for me is just really trying to just continue to do projects that are personal to me. Things that I really love. We hope to be able to use the characters from Hair Love and turn it into a feature film

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.