Mohegan — The very name — National Girls and Women in Sports Day — connotes certain images, most notably of girls and women playing or coaching. It is to be celebrated, surely, this attainment of more opportunity for girls and women than ever before.
But this is the story of a woman who is very much a player without being one. This is the story of Amber Cox, a beacon for girls and women everywhere, who illustrates the concept of opportunity beyond playing and coaching.
Women can be The Boss now, too.
Cox is the Vice President of the Connecticut Sun and New England Black Wolves, overseeing a staff of 15, responsible for overall operations of both franchises. This just in: She’s really good at it. The Sun and Wolves, regardless of game outcome, put on a great show. Her previous contributions as the marketing director for the Phoenix Mercury led to the franchise’s profitability.
“I grew up watching Larry Bird,” Cox was saying earlier this week from her office in Neon Uncasville. “But I know our players now like Chiney (Ogwumike) grew up watching other women playing. It’s a great thing. But I think it’s important to realize there are role models and paths to remaining in sports if you don’t have the talent to be on the field.”
And to think this all began with Cox, who grew up in a small town in Missouri, wanting to be a journalist.
“There was no WNBA for me growing up,” she said. “I wanted to write a column. I went to the Olympics in 1996 volunteering with the press committee at the Georgia Dome and had a bad experience. Everyone was kind of grouchy.”
Ah, yes. “Grouchy” and “the media” go together better than “the stars” and “the stripes.”
And so Cox, after bouts with working in sports information and advertising, got the job with the Mercury. She teamed with Lynn Agnello, Mohegan Sun’s current director of sponsorships (she had the same job in Phoenix), to revolutionize the revenue rhythms for the league. They convinced Phoenix-based identity theft protection company LifeLock to become the first business in the country to appear on the front of a sports uniform. Same color scheme, only with “LifeLock” replacing “Mercury.”
The revenue from the deal turned the franchise profitable.
“Lynn is brilliant,” Cox said. “She told the LifeLock people there’s only one person who’s first. That person is going to get all of the attention. If you’re the very first company to put your name on a jersey, you’ll get all the hoopla from a national level. She was right. LifeLock was thrilled with the impressions and media attention it got out of the gate. Then we went on to win the championship and we were on the Wheaties box. A really cool experience.”
Cox has come here and turned the game day experience into a must watch, from the Wolves, who are home Friday night playing for first place, to the Sun, whose player skits on the big board inside Mohegan Sun Arena kept fans chuckling all summer.
Cox’s education, particularly about the cadence and patterns of leadership, is ongoing. One of her go-to sayings — “It’s not mean; it’s clear,” comes from Kim Scott’s book, “Radical Candor: How To Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.”
“It’s about having candid conversations with people and being transparent with your employees,” Cox said. “But that only works if they know you care about them. And so I say that to my staff all the time. In sports, you are working with young people often. I don’t assume to know what that their long term goals are, but I want to know. I want to know how we fit into that plan. If they are working toward their personal goals, they’re probably more likely committed to achieving our over-arching goals.”
Still, it is not easy to be the Boss Lady. You know how it goes. The man is perceived as “aggressive.” The woman is “bossy.”
“I’ve learned this becoming a more seasoned manager,” Cox said. “There were times I would bite back really quickly if I didn’t like something. It just came off wrong. Especially in this day and age of digital correspondence. It’s so easy to be misconstrued. It’s hard and I’m not great at it, but I really work at having face-to-face conversations or giving it a day. I try to give myself more breathing room to go have a conversation.”
And so Wednesday, the 32nd edition of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, we salute players, coaches … and bosses, too.
“I still believe that women have to be the most prepared people in the room,” Cox said. “You don’t always have to know the answer, but you should try to think ahead and know what the questions are going to be. What I tell a lot of young women working for me is that I don’t want them to be the people who say nothing. Come with an opinion. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro