The Princess of Darkness

Amy Trask remains loyal to the Oakland Raiders and Al Davis.


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Amy Trask has the coolest nickname ever.

Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders was the first NFL head honcho to hire a woman, Amy Trask, as his chief executive officer. Trask worked for the Raiders for 26 years. She became a fan during their first stint in Oakland as a Cal undergrad and then rose through the ranks after interning with the team as a law student at the University of Southern California in the early ’80s. Her experiences in the rough-and-tumble world of the NFL, as well as her dealings with the controversial Davis, are chronicled in her new book You Negotiate Like a Girl. Now she is a lawyer in Los Angeles and an analyst for CBS’s NFL telecasts and other outlets. I tracked her down recently for a silver-and-black chat.

Paul Kilduff: I’ve heard it said that the Raiders should stay in Oakland. They’ve got the freeway, the airport, BART, and plenty of places to tailgate. But there’s no political will or taxpayer support to build a stadium. It doesn’t seem like the Davis family, or the mysterious silent partners, have the money to build their own stadium. Does Mark Davis have to give up some of the team for it to happen in Oakland?

Amy Trask: It is a magnificent site. It is the best of all 31 sites in the National Football League. But you are right. There is not going to be a public contribution approaching anything near the contribution that was just voted in on Las Vegas, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a solution that’s reasonable and intelligent for the community, taxpayers, and the team. The team would have to compromise on some of the things. For example, the team has announced repeatedly that it would want a new stadium on the exact spot as the existing building. Well, No. 1, that would mean that the site really isn’t conducive to both a baseball and a football stadium. And it would also mean that the existing building would have to come down before we start construction on a new one. But what if, instead, the team compromised on moving the building a little bit to the south, thus freeing up the northern portion of the site for baseball? The BART ramp is going to have to be redone anyway. So, now you reroute to both buildings and here’s where the city and county can compromise. They can allow the team or the league or private developers to realize back some of the cost that those private businesses would spend constructing the stadium by redeveloping land around the stadium.

PK: But what about Davis giving up some of the team to help pay for this—will that ever happen?

AT: I will speak generally to the subject and not specific to Mark Davis or the Raiders and simply say that ownership rules in the National Football League are such that one need not own an enormous part of the team to retain control.

PK: There was a billboard taken out by disgruntled Raiders’ fans not long before Davis passed away urging him to get a general manager and give up the reins a little bit. Did he hold on too long?

AT: Look, he had tremendous success up until those last years. Let’s call it eight years or so. Those were rough years, and the team did not meet with the success they had certainly hoped for. When one is in one’s mid-to-late-70s and in ill health and confronting one’s own mortality, one is going to define long-term quite differently than when one is in one’s 40s, 50s, or 60s. Did he make certain decisions in those waning years that weren’t the best decision? Of course, but we’re all going to define long-term differently if we’re in very ill health in our 70s. I certainly remember the billboard. I remember I drove by it on my way home every night, thinking, “We have a GM. And his name is Al.” Did he make decisions in those waning years that were designed with a “I-want-to-win-right-now” mentality? Decisions that may not have been the best for the long-term? Sure, but when you know you only really have right now, you’re going to view long-term differently.

PK: When the Raiders moved back from LA, Oakland, Alameda County, and the Coliseum Authority were in charge of selling Raiders’ tickets and not the team. In retrospect, was that a good idea?

AT: No, I didn’t have to wait to retrospect to get there. And that’s horrible English. But here’s how it unfolded. Someone closely affiliated with the organization was handling the direct discussions with the city, the county, and the Coliseum—the East Bay Entity. And it was presented to us as a take-it or leave-it non-negotiable deal element—that the East Bay Entity would have to be in absolute control over the sales of those seating products. And I objected . . . And the response we received was, “Look, this is non-negotiable from the perspective of the East Bay Entity.” And the reason articulated by them was, “We are on the hook for repayment of the bond, then we want absolute control over the revenues that are going to go towards paying the bond.” It wasn’t a realization we came to later. It was a take-it or leave-it from the East Bay Entity perspective.

PK: You liked being called the Princess of Darkness. Why?

AT: Love it. Come on, is there a better nickname you’ve ever heard? The nickname was one that came from a story Mike Silver wrote. He was at Sports Illustrated at the time and wrote a profile roughly sometime in 2000 to 2003. He quoted an anonymous league source stating that I was referred to as the Princess of Darkness. And it was absolutely, positively not intended as a compliment. But Raider Nation embraced it. And I embraced it. And I think it’s the coolest nickname ever. I cherish it.

PK: How much time do you spend thinking about gender?

AT: I never spent a moment—and I still don’t—thinking about gender issues. If other people want to waste their time and expend their energy thinking about my gender, let them. I’m certainly not going to waste mine. And by the way, I don’t think it’s intellectually honest to want one’s gender to be irrelevant yet to think of one’s gender. I never walked into a room—I don’t now walk onto a television studio—thinking about the fact that I’m a woman. I don’t want anyone else thinking about the fact that I’m a woman. How does it make sense for me to think about that fact?

PK: How does that relate to the title of your book?

AT: It’s because I share a story in the book in which someone said to me, “You negotiate like a girl.” Someone said that in frustration, anger, and pique. And I talk about why I didn’t care. I talk about the fact that I laughed and told him to go negotiate on his own. I talk about the fact that I knew he didn’t care that I was, quote, a girl, closed quote. He then made a substantive comment that really did make me mad and had nothing to do with gender. So, yes, that is the title, but in the book I explain why it didn’t bother me.

 

This interview appeared in the December edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Dec. 19, 2016 at 8:00 a.m.

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