On National Girls and Women in Sports Day, NABJ student writer Allegra Coleman profiles Bears player personnel coordinator Ashton Washington to detail how her family roots have impacted her journey in the sports industry.
For Ashton Washington, being deeply rooted means never forgetting where she came from.
At the heart of her story is her grandmother, who was a teacher in Mississippi — the place Washington was born. From her grandmother, she heard stories of the Civil Rights Movement and the historic crossing of the bridge in Selma.
It was those stories of her grandmother's wisdom and perseverance during tribulations that planted the seeds of resilience and determination for Washington's continued success as a Black woman in sports.
Washington grew up in a football-centric environment. With her brother running routes for the Jacksonville Jaguars and her father drawing from the playbook as a coach, she has familiarized herself with the metrics of the game.
As she enters her fourth season with the Bears as their first female scout, she carries on the wisdom of her grandmother and the powerful words of poet Maya Angelou: "I come as one, but stand as 10,000." That quote has resonated with her throughout her career.
"Every time I have the opportunity to come into the draft room or I have an opportunity to use my voice and speak up where others are listening, I use that quote in my mind at all times," Washington said. "That's just passing the torch and bringing in more seats and more chairs for women, for Black women."
Throughout her journey, Washington has faced much skepticism and discouragement about her chosen path. Now, she's breaking barriers and paving the way for women of color.
"When I was in college, I heard, 'you should choose a more realistic career path for a woman of color,'" Washington said. "I've never let them steer me."
While working for the University of Illinois football team under previous Bears coach Lovie Smith, Washington absorbed Smith's coaching strategies and they became rooted in her. Washington gleaned valuable insight from the college scene that became instrumental in her role as a trailblazing scout for the Bears.
"He [Smith] had tendencies of running our program like an NFL program, especially to get those players ready," Washington said. "There's a lot of similarities that I see or with the stuff that's transcended here and what I do. I never knew that would help me to where I am now."
Her skill set has allowed her to continue being a trailblazer. Beyond this, she never took no for an answer and advised other women of color to do the same. Washington emphasized the importance of being determined in this industry while having love and passion for the game, whether that be in the NBA or MLS. For her, that was football.
"You're going to hear more no's than yes's, and every time you hear no keep going at it," Washington said. "I had my direction on football and I've never let anybody deter me towards anything else outside of football."
Much like being an NFL player, Washington has built a family with those she works closest with as she dedicates long hours to the Bears' scouting department.
"You're going to put in a lot of hours and you're going to see the people in this building or in your department more than you see your own family," Washington said.
Within the field, Washington works with a multitude of departments across the Bears where she continues to utilize her seeded roots to become well-acquainted with her colleagues and build lasting relationships within the scouting industry.
"I have to be a really good people person because I'm connecting with so many different departments in our facility on a daily basis," Washington said. "Being a big picture anticipator is what I strive to be. I liked to add value before asked."
Fresh off attending All-Star games like the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl, where she conducted interviews for future prospects for the Bears, Washington is now gearing up for draft meetings in this dynamic field.
Amidst the busiest time of her career, Washington is now taking the time to learn about the seeds planted within potential prospects for the Bears. She has recognized the importance of learning and understanding the stories of those she interacts with.
Beyond the statistics and metrics of the game, Washington values the depth and richness that personal stories bring to the broader narrative. By actively connecting with diverse personalities and learning about their journeys, she enhances her ability to connect with players, colleagues, and the broader sports community.
"Taking the time and learning other people's stories, we get so caught up in our own schedules that we forget to venture out," Washington said. "Talking to people and getting to know them, the more we get to know them, the more the story broadens up."
For Washington, being deeply rooted means more than just honoring her past; it serves as a guiding force in her present role as a trailblazer in the sports industry. In weaving the tapestry of her career, she not only brings her own unique story to the forefront but also cherishes and amplifies the diverse narratives she encounters.
Washington exemplifies the power of being deeply rooted, drawing strength from her grandmother's past to cultivate a more inclusive and diverse future.
"What keeps me centered would be my grandma, she's the main one that keeps me deeply rooted and remembering who I am, where I come from," Washington said. "While never forgetting the past and the people behind me and then the next generation in front of me."