I was being interviewed by the Texas Tribune’s Terri Langford for this story in late June, and in the course of our conversation, she asked a question that I often hear: “What difference does all of this make? Does an agent really matter?” That question has been turning over in my mind for weeks now. I think I finally have an answer, so let’s s leave the topic of training fees today to discuss it.
I have to admit that when Terri asked me this question, I stumbled a bit. I should have had a ready answer, because the very question gets at the legitimacy of the entire sports representation industry. I don’t take the question personally; after all, I’m no agent, have never been an agent, and have no plans to be one. Still, many of my closest friends in the business are the most established contract advisors in the business, and others are trying to get there.
I guess the thing that irks me most is that whenever someone in the business — often a coach, a school official or a compliance professional — asks that question, their real agenda is to dismiss agents, though that wasn’t Terri’s intention. So, next time I get this question, I’ll have an answer in two parts.
Here’s the first part. Let’s say you were accused of murder. Your life is on the line, and obviously, you need a lawyer. How would you go about finding one? Would you just settle for whoever the court appointed for you? Would you Google ‘defense lawyer’ and then just take the first guy that popped up in your browser? Would you just call a buddy who’d had legal trouble and take whoever he recommended? Of course not. You’d gather as much information as you possibly could, get educated on the charges you face, and try to find the most experienced and successful attorney you could afford.
Finding the right agent is very comparable for a young man aspiring to play in the NFL. The only difference is that his professional life, not his actual life, is what’s on the line. When a coach, school official, or other person forbids any contact between agents and players or their parents, he’s essentially taking away that research process.
Here’s the second part. The Colts signed a tight end named Erik Swoope as an undrafted free agent this spring. Ever heard of him? Unless you are a fan of Miami (Fla.) basketball, probably not. However, I bet you’ve heard of Saints TE Jimmy Graham. Their stories are similar: played hoops for the ‘Canes, had limited football experience (no football experience, in Swoope’s case), and wanted to give tight end a try. They also have one other thing in common: their agent, CAA’s Jimmy Sexton. Now, if Swoope wasn’t a Sexton client, maybe he’d have gotten a shot with an NFL team. But having a powerful agent going to bat for you, and having that agent tell his NFL contacts that he’s got a guy who reminds him of another of his ultra-successful clients, is more than a little advantageous.
These reasons may seem intuitive, but I’ve never had them at the ready when I got the ‘what are agents for’ question. Now I do, and so do you.
War Story Wednesday tomorrow. We’ll have something good. Check us out then.