Noted sports columnist William Rhoden penned an article a month ago in The New York Times under the headline, “Diverse Representation for Players, Without Regulation.” It examined what he called “one of the more intriguing concepts to emerge” (during Super Bowl festivities): the suggestion that there should be an initiative for players, especially those in the league’s Black majority, to consider African-Americans as they pick agents and lawyers.
In Rhoden’s opinion, the thought that such an initiative could persuade Black players to consider Black representation has to do with “trust, familiarity and, in some cases, a mentality of questioning the ability of African-American agents.”
He wrote, “Arizona Cardinals linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said he was pragmatic when it came to selecting an agent. “I’m trying to get the best guy, Black or white,” he said. “If I’m trying to find who has the best leverage for me, I’m going to go wherever that may be — who has the most power, who has the most relationships.” Alexander added, “A young Black guy may be awesome, but if he doesn’t have the connections and the relationships needed for me to leverage myself, then I can’t go with him.”
My experience tells me that the real problem is the misconception that agents are the ones’ who wield the power. A player’s skill level (as perceived by team personnel professionals), performance and character are the three determinative factors in the entire process. Talent rules, and agents go along for the ride. Period.
Beyond that, individual team needs, depth (or lack thereof) at a particular position and adaptability to a team’s offensive or defensive scheme are the only other variables that factor into the draft flow. The college coaching and medical staffs are the only outside source consulted by teams.
As a result, the top agents identify and recruit solely from among the players rated in the top 10-15 at their position. A player who is not projected to be drafted need not worry about being bombarded with pitches from agents. There is no “magic dust” to draw attention to a player and no “power” or “relationship” that can overcome a lack of skill or character. The evaluations are so complete that draft prognosticators like Mel Kiper can practically predict the flow of the draft in advance.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a useful role for a player agent that would include ensuring that the client have at least a working knowledge of their various duties, obligations and benefits under the collective bargaining agreement. A skilled agent can also help a client identify and develop their non-athletic competencies with much more focus and strategy. Access to and contact with the non-league business, educational and political contacts could also prove helpful in the player’s transition.
Unfortunately, the most “value” agents bring to the table is financing the player’s decision to forego his final semester in school prepare for the combine. According to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, “the one that just kills me is that they spend three or four years with a strength coach on a college campus and as soon as the season’s over they go somewhere else to some guy who doesn’t know them from a hole in the wall and pay this guy a bunch of money. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It used to be that they had to pay for it and now it’s part of the agent deal. They’ve cultivated a whole industry out of it. It doesn’t make sense.”
“When it comes to evaluating talent in the draft, the film doesn’t lie,” according to Lewis.
As a pioneering sports agent/attorney, I have had a front-row seat observing how white agents and even the few experienced African-American agents/attorneys make the process of transitioning from college to professional sports seem overwhelming and complicated as a way to justify their existence, retention and compensation.
The top athlete agencies collectively manage more than $10 billion in player contracts. Those firms represent the vast majority of NBA and NFL players, and practically all of the stars and superstars. Even so, according to Sports Illustrated, by the time former NFL players have been retired for two years, nearly 80 percent of them “have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” Within five years of retirement, SI reports that approximately 60 percent of former NBA players are broke. The two most amazing meltdowns in recent sports history, involves Allen Iverson and Antoine Walker who reportedly lost a combined $320 million.
So despite their perceived “power” and “influence,” white agents have not been able to stop the bleeding. It would wiser for an athlete to consider an agent’s skills and character, not the color of his or her skin.