Seconds into a press conference to announce his retirement, K.J. Wright was already getting choked up.
As he continued his opening statement, Wright, who played 10 seasons for the Seahawks and 11 in the NFL, fought back tears as he told Pete Carroll that he loved him, adding, "We kicked a lot of ass together." He broke down as he talked about what former Seahawks linebacker coach and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. meant to his career, then again later when he described how, in the 2020 offseason, assistant trainer C.J. Neumann worked with him daily to help him rehab following shoulder surgery, getting Wright back for Day 1 of training camp in what would be his 10th and final season with the Seahawks.
The emotions continued to flow as Wright brought his mother, Jacqueline, father, Kenneth, and wife, Nathalie, on stage individually to tell them how much they meant to him.
And throughout the Puget Sound region and beyond, the tears were no doubt flowing wherever Seahawks fans, who came to love Wright over his decade in Seattle, were tuning into the press conference. There have been more talented players to wear a Seahawks uniform, and players who earned more individual accolades, but few players in franchise history, if any, can claim to be more beloved that Wright.
So it was only fitting that when Wright made his retirement official a day after signing a one-day contract with Seattle, that his press conference was an emotional love-fest in an auditorium packed not only with media but also with current and former teammates and coaches, Seahawks staff members from nearly every department, and large contingent of family and friends.
"This is a really special day for me to see you all here," Wright said. "The people I love, the people that helped me get to this point, my teammates, my parents, my wife and kids, it's a beautiful day, man, and I'm so thankful that I laid it all out on the football field. And you're all truly a blessing in my life. So I'm here to announce that, after 11 fantastic seasons, that I'm retiring from the NFL.
"I fell in love with this game as a young kid just playing football in my grandma's front yard with my friends and my cousins, and here I am standing in front of y'all as a Super Bowl champ, a Pro-Bowler and Seahawks Man of the Year."
Wright arrived in Seattle as a fourth-round pick just hoping to stick around in the NFL. He leaves the Seahawks as the third-leading tackler in team history, a 10-year starter at linebacker who won a Super Bowl, helped anchor a defense that allowed the fewest points in the NFL for four straight seasons, and a nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, and the winner of the Steve Largent Award. Wright spent one season with the Las Vegas Raiders after 10 in Seattle, and considered playing again this year, but over time he realized it was time to hang up his cleats and enjoy time with his family.
"I gave this game every ounce I had in my body," he said. "I gave it my heart and my soul. I put my body on the line. I made sacrifices in my personal life. It's safe to say, I'm on empty right now. This game has taught me lessons that I will carry on with me for the rest of my life and instill in my children. This is the game that helped me come out of my shell. It's taught me how to persevere when things get hard. I learned to communicate better with people. It taught me the power of teamwork, and the most valuable lesson it taught me is the motto that I live by, and that's hard work always pays off. It's time to say goodbye to a game I played my entire life, and it came and went by so fast. You'll always be in my heart. I thank you so much for the impact you had on me, but it's officially time to hang up my cleats."
After thanking everyone from teammates to coaches to athletic trainers to the equipment staff, Wright closed out his opening statement with a special message to Seahawks fans.
"Last but not least, to the city of Seattle and to the 12s, coming from Mississippi to Seattle, I was in a culture shock," he said. "I honestly thought I had landed in a different country. But when I got here y'all embraced me since day one. I played in every NFL stadium and there's no place like Lumen Field. The energy you guys bring, the passion you guys brought every game made it so much fun to play here. And my favorite memory of you guys was the Super Bowl parade. To see those smiles, see those tears, it meant the world to me. And you guys earned the right to call yourself champions, and I'm so thankful that I could bring it to you guys. This day is so special. I can sleep good at night knowing I laid it all on the football field. I created lifelong friends lifelong memories, and to everybody in this building, I truly, truly thank you all for being here. I love you all dearly."
Later in the day, Carroll opened his post-practice press conference by noting Thursday was "A big day for K.J. today, and for the organization and the 12s and all. He's been such an amazing competitor in this program and been such a great, great person. He showed today, just reminded you what a perfect teammate he really is in all ways. We were really blessed to have him here for all those years. He has inspired all of us… It was a big day for K.J., a big day for us."
As for what's next for Wright, this retirement is the end of his career, but not the end of his relationship with the team. Like so many other players from his era—Kam Chancellor, Cliff Avril, Doug Baldwin and Richard Sherman to name a few—Wright has made the Seattle area his home despite having no ties to the area before joining the team. And while Wright plans to enjoy his first fall without football being a fan and more importantly a full-time dad, he eventually wants to find a role with the team, though he doesn't want get into coaching because of the toll that would take on his family.
"I want to take this fall to enjoy life, to enjoy myself and enjoy my family," he said. "I know at the end of the day, when I do get ready, I want to come and serve this organization. Not in coaching, but I want to serve this organization. I know I have a special niche for bringing people together, finding talent and just building something special. This place is so special, and I've seen it all and I've done it all and I know what it looks like. And I would love to come and serve this organization in whatever form or fashion they'd have me in."
Carroll made it clear the team is on the same page when it comes to Wright having a future in the organization.
"It's a perfect relationship, there's going to be a future to it," Carroll said. "We have big plans about stuff, and we've been talking for a long time about it. You couldn't put a better guy in your program to be an ambassador, to be a worker, to be a leader, to be an innovator and all of that. As much as anything, I love that we know we have a future with K.J. here."
Damn right. I'm going to be all the games I can make, in the suite, sipping on tequila. Me and Lofa (Tatupu) are going to be in the suite having a really good time. I'm going to be watching Quandre getting picks and (DeShawn) Shead coaching. It's going to be fun."
But priority No. 1 this summer and fall for Wright will be to enjoy every moment he can with his family.
"My daughter's playing volleyball, I want to see every single one of those games that she plays," he said. "Little man's about to do track and football, I don't want to miss a thing."
And when Wright is spending all of that quality time with his three kids, he'll be able to use the love-fest that was his farewell press conference as a lesson in how to live life.
"I feel like I'm really loved," he said. "I gave my heart to everyone here, and to go out this way—I want to teach my kids, just be a good person and treat people right. Just be respectful to any and everybody you come across and everything will take care of itself."