Amy Trask got her start with the Raiders as an intern in 1983. As part of our ongoing Power Players series highlighting women in sports business, espnW caught up with Trask to hear about how she climbed the Raiders' ladder to become chief executive.
espnW: You were the first woman to become a chief executive in the NFL when you were named to the position in 1997. What did it feel like to make history?
Amy Trask: I think there's entirely too much emphasis in the workplace on titles. There's no particular significance to the title itself. There's tremendous significance to me that I'm working in an environment and for an organization that has provided opportunities to everyone over a 40- or 50-year span. The focus on titles is misplaced, but the focus on the track record of the diversity and inclusiveness of the Raiders is not misplaced, and that to me is very significant.
espnW: Were you nervous to enter a field where you were one of only a few women at the time?
AT: No. I've long believed that if I don't want my gender to be an issue, then the last thing I should do is make my gender an issue. If I want to walk into a meeting or walk onto the field or walk out to practice and not have anyone focus on my gender, then the very last thing I should do is focus on my gender. My gender has always been irrelevant to me and that's the path I've chosen to take. It is my firm hope and belief that if my gender is irrelevant to me, my gender will be irrelevant to all those with whom I work.
espnW: That's a great piece of advice for other women working in sports.
AT: It's interesting you note that that's "advice" to women. I'm often asked by women of a variety of ages for advice, and it's often phrased as follows, "What would you advise a young woman … ?" My response is I would provide the same advice to a young woman as I would a young man. Work hard and distinguish yourself and that's advice that's equally applicable to women and to men. But I also say to women, if you don't want your gender to be an issue, then don't make your gender an issue.
espnW: You have an opportunity to interact with other teams and their front offices on a daily basis. Do you notice more diversity and inclusiveness within the Raiders' organization compared to other teams?
AT: I'll answer that in two regards. Certainly there are other teams in all sports that are providing some opportunities in a variety of regards, but do I believe the Raiders stand out in terms of diversity and inclusiveness? Absolutely, positively, unequivocally, yes. The track record for diversity and inclusiveness here goes back decades and decades. It's not something we've come to recently. It's been the ethos of the organization going back to the '60s. It's just our lifestyle.
espnW: What are some unconventional obligations of an NFL chief executive?
AT: I've worked here for more than 20 years and no two days are ever the same, so I can't single out something I would do that might be unexpected. My approach to my job is to do whatever needs to be done on any given day. It's my honor and my pleasure to do anything I can to assist a fan on game day, whether at home or on the road. I love meeting Raider fans and I meet Raider fans in some wonderful locations. There's not a city, not a state, not a country, not a continent in which we don't have fans, and I simply love meeting them. I will walk up to any person, any place, anytime to enjoy a Raider Nation moment.
espnW: You got your start with the Raiders in 1983 as an intern, while you were a law student at the University of Southern California. In 1987, you joined the team's legal department, before you were ultimately named chief executive in 1997. What advice do you have for women on how best to climb the ranks of an organization?
AT: Again, I would have the same advice for women that I'd have for men. Work hard and distinguish yourself. Hard work really matters. I would advise people to work hard, put the interests of the organization for which they work ahead of their own interests and distinguish themselves by their commitment, dedication and hard work. That crosses both genders.
espnW: People view working in sports as a fun and exciting career, but they often don't get to see all of the hard work that takes place behind the scenes. How many hours do you typically work each day?
AT: I have never viewed my job in terms of hours. My job is a way of life. My passion for the Raiders and the Raider organization is a very deep passion. If someone is seeking advice about a career in sports, my advice would be don't worry about the number of hours you're working or the number of days a week you're working. This is a way of life. It's a commitment, it's a dedication and it's a passion. You do what needs to be done for as many hours as it takes. Those of us who work for the Oakland Raiders specifically, and in sports in general, are very privileged to have our jobs.
espnW: You're a lifelong Raiders fan. Where did your love of football come from?
AT: Interesting question because it did not come from my family. My family absolutely watched the Super Bowl and maybe a game every now and again during the season, but I'm not precisely sure where my passion came from and, frankly, neither is my family. I developed a love for the game when I was in my early teens and my passion grew. I then came up to the Bay Area, and I was in college at Cal Berkeley. I was absolutely thrilled to be just down the road from the Oakland Raiders. I would go to a Raider game whenever I had the chance to do so as a student at Cal. It's a great game. It's a phenomenal mix of strength, speed, power and intellect. I'm not sure many people realize just how very cerebral the game is. It's a game of matchups. It's a game in which the strategy and the intellectual component are very, very important. And yet, you mix that strategy and that intellectual component of the game with the strength, speed and power, it's just a terrific game.
espnW: What's been the single greatest moment of your career as chief executive so far?
AT: Winning the AFC Championship Game in January of 2003. We played the Tennessee Titans in Oakland. To date, that has been the most spectacular moment of my career.
espnW: During the lockout, instead of cutbacks or furloughs, you advised team employees that they must sell new season tickets that totaled 10 percent of their salaries. Where did that idea come from and is that policy still in place now that a new CBA has been reached?
AT: It has been a magnificent success in many regards. It was a wonderful opportunity for many people in the organization to work together toward a common goal. It was very exciting for me to see people from our equipment department teaming up with people from our ticket sales department. Everybody embraced the project. Employees are still participating -- even those who have sold well more than need be. They just keep on adding to the overall success.
espnW: What exactly does a CEO do during a lockout?
AT: The lockout is a distant memory, I'm happy to say. There were a variety of meetings, and we had to continue operating the business of the Raiders. Our football staff was here getting ready for the season. We were present at events throughout the region as a whole. Just during the lockout, we had Raider representatives at events that were visited by 1.8 million people.
espnW: There are a handful of owners who are just as well known as their players. Raiders owner Al Davis happens to be one of those guys. What is it like working for him?
AT: It's a privilege and an honor to work for him and for the organization. I have a tremendous respect for his privacy and don't speak of him other than to say it's a privilege and an honor to work for him.
espnW: There's been a recent surge of opposing fans committing senseless acts of violence against one another at sporting events, including the shooting and assault incidents that occurred at the Raiders-49ers preseason game at Candlestick Park on Aug. 20. What can be done to curtail this type of violence between fans?
AT: Every team in every sport has a handful of individuals who attend games and don't behave appropriately. That's not unique to any one team or any one sport in general. Anytime you put 40,000, 50,000, 60,000 people in one spot, you've got a gathering of people the size of some small cities. In this country, we have cities where there are a handful of people who don't behave properly. But the overwhelming majority of Raiders fans and people in sports in general are terrific people. Those terrific people are letting those who don't behave know that their behavior is not acceptable.
espnW: There have been talks about building a joint stadium with the 49ers. What are some of the pros and cons of sharing a stadium with another NFL team and where do you think that stadium would be located to satisfy both fan bases?
AT: We do have an open mind about the possibility about sharing a stadium. Discussions with the 49ers are ongoing. There are many benefits. Look at Jets-Giants model. In this day and age, with technology so advanced, you can have a shared facility where each team enters the stadium on game day, and the stadium looks like it was designed just for that team. As for a location, the 49ers have talked about Santa Clara, and we've stayed focused on Oakland.
espnW: What do you do when you're not working?
AT: I'm passionate about animal rescue and serve on the board of directors of Tony La Russa's Animal Rescue Foundation.
espnW: Do you have any regrets in your career so far?
AT: No regrets -- just a burning desire to win the Super Bowl.