By: Peter Dewey
Fifteen years ago, now Connecticut Sun and New England Black Wolves Vice President Amber Cox was the Assistant Athletic Director for Columbia College in her home state of Missouri.
She had moved up the ranks from Sports Information Director, giving her stability at a place that was close to home, but Cox wanted more.
She applied for a Director of Marketing job with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury and was eventually offered the position.
“I was trying to decide what to do because I had lived in Missouri my whole life I was close to my family and I had never stepped further away than like a four-hour drive, so this was a major move for me,” Cox said. “The stability of this college job, I had moved up the ranks. I started as the sports information director and became the assistant athletic director, so I was in a really good position.”
However, as Amber went to make her decision, one of her family members told her to not pursue a job in the WNBA for fear of the league folding.
Now, fifteen years later, with her second WNBA team in the Sun after nine years with the Mercury, Cox is exactly where she wants to be.
“I’m really glad I didn’t take that advice,” Cox said. “The safe route was to stay close to home and continue where I was comfortable. I stepped out of that comfort zone and it was really uncomfortable for a while, it was scary.
“At the end of the day, it was the greatest decision I ever made. It was such a wonderful nine years in Phoenix with two championships and being around [Mercury guard] Diana Taurasi every single day and watching the very best to ever do it play the game, it was an absolute gift. That chance ultimately very much paid off and it set the stage for everything else that has happened in my career.”
With the Mercury, Cox would eventually become the President and Chief Operating Officer following in the footsteps of one of her mentors, Jay Parry who held the position when she first came to Phoenix.
But after nine years with the Mercury, Cox was ready for a new challenge. This time the move was to New York where she would get the opportunity to be a part of major college basketball for the first time in her career.
“I had been [in Phoenix] nine years and I could have stayed,” Cox said. “I could have continued to do that job, but I was turning 40 and I had this opportunity to go work for [Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman] and move to New York, that was something that was very appealing.”
Ackerman, who was the first president of the WNBA, was another person that Cox had looked up to during her journey through the sports world.
“Val was leaving the WNBA right as I was coming into the WNBA in 2004 and so I had always looked up to her,” Cox said. “I was really excited about the opportunity to, one move to New York, and to work [as an Associate Commissioner for Women’s basketball] under Val’s leadership. I had been in professional sports and I had been in smaller college athletics so that was a really cool opportunity to step into big time college basketball and also work for another amazing mentor in Val.”
It was during her time in New York where Cox found her love for the East Coast. But, before she came to Connecticut, Cox became the Vice President of Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Houston Dash.
“Taking the leap to Houston, I think the professional ranks is just a better fit for me, I like the ability to be creative, I like the business aspect of it,” Cox said. “Professional sports just made a lot of sense for me.”
Now entering her third season as the Vice President of the Connecticut Sun, Cox has had a plethora of experiences working in sports that have gotten her to where she is today, but it didn’t come without taking chances on herself.
“In each case, you sort of take a new chance, and there are times where you go, ‘I don’t know if this was the right decision maybe I should’ve stayed in [Phoenix or New York]’” Cox said. “But in the end, here I sit today, back in the league that I love more than anything with all of these other experiences.”
Cox emphasized that connections with people and the ability to see how different ideas worked while she was in each of her previous roles influence how she goes about each day with the Sun.
“I think the cool thing about being at Mohegan Sun and you talk about different experiences, my days here are so different than they ever were with the Phoenix Mercury,” Cox said. “We are a very small piece of a very big machine with Mohegan Sun. I’ve learned so much about an industry that I knew nothing about when you talk about the gaming industry and how this place operates as at such a high level and all the success that Mohegan Sun has had throughout the years and how we (the Connecticut Sun) fit into that.”
Cox’s journey has been predicated on her desire to challenge herself and the fact that her mentors have pushed her to try new things and help her achieve success. Now in her position, she hopes to pay it forward to women looking for the same opportunities.
“There are so many women like myself who have had great mentors that way to pay it forward to both men and women,” Cox said. “So, if I get an email or a phone call from any student, I will always take that call and have that conversation about their personal journey and where they may be getting hung up or what should they do next in terms of a career path or choice.”
So what is her advice to those looking to forge a path similar to her own?
“I think especially for young women, women in my position want to empower women to be the next leaders. Get in the game, stay in the game, find the people that will empower you and help you along the way and just stick with it.”
Cox has been a part of women’s basketball for the majority of her life, playing since she was five years old, eventually in college and then continuing to hold major roles in both the college and professional ranks.
“Off the court, you have all these pillars that the WNBA stands for: diversity, women, equality and I believe that these women are some of the best representatives in the world for people to say, ‘They represent change,’” Cox said. “They’re playing their sport and earning a living doing that. All the things that surround this league from a social standpoint from an equality standpoint and from a diversity standpoint, the things in the world that are the old ways, that are the stereotypes of what women should be, we’re going burn it down.”