For today’s War Story Wednesday, I want to take you back to something that happened to me last Thursday, less than a week ago.

You hear all the time that in football — as in life — success is built on relationships. You don’t want to burn bridges, and you don’t want to screw people over. You want them to know that they are valued, and that you are worthy of their trust, no matter how big they are in the game. I’d hope people would treat me the same way, which takes me to what happened last week, when we held our sixth annual ITL Seminar in Indianapolis.

We’ve been fortunate to grow in size every year, and this year was our biggest event yet with around 120 people there. I know, that doesn’t sound like a lot of people, but it’s big enough that if you play your cards right, you can ‘hide’ in such a group pretty easily.

Our annual seminar is open only to ITL clients, and I make that perfectly clear, both on the site and in the various newsletter editions I send out to agents and financial planners in the game. I do this because I’m trying to spur business, of course, but also to avoid uncomfortable situations at the door. I don’t want to tell anyone that they can’t attend, though, of course, there are always one or two exceptions.

One ‘good’ exception this year was New York-based agent J.R. Rickert, who’s with Authentic Athletix. Though J.R. isn’t an ITL client per se, we’ve always enjoyed a positive relationship, and his partners have always been clients. For that reason, when he asked if he could join us Thursday, I was happy to welcome him. It’s not something he’s ever attended before, and I was happy to share some goodwill. Of course, there were others who weren’t so fair-minded. There are three examples that come to mind.

One was a group of three people who showed up. They were loosely linked to a combine prep service that has been a long-time client, so when they showed up at the event, I let them in at the request of the trainer. I was a bit frustrated that one invitation had turned into three, but I felt it was the right thing to do to let them in. Of course, I told them that it was normally for members only, and requested that they sign up this week. We’ll see if they follow through on that.

Another was a single, first-year agent. He knows all about ITL and knew the event was clients-only, but I could tell he was trying to play dumb when I confronted him at the door. I asked him to sign up this week — and to his credit, he offered to pay cash on the spot for a month’s subscription, which I declined — and so far, he has not. I made sure to greet him when I saw him later in the week in an effort to show good faith and take the high road, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting on him to make good on his promise. I don’t think anything’s on the way.

The third person was a financial planner based in the Northeast. For the second straight year, he ducked into my event despite not being a member. He’s clearly trying to get around becoming a client as he likes to show up right before the start, when there’s a long line of people clamoring to get in and things are a bit more rushed. This year, he waited for me to leave the registration table before he made his move, but I saw his name on the admission list, so I know he was there. Next year, I will make a point of confronting him.

It’s not that I’m into confrontation, but there are a couple of reasons I take this stuff seriously. No. 1, this has become a client appreciation night, and I’m not appreciative that he — or anyone else who’s not a client — is taking advantage of that. No. 2, these events are not free, and it’s frustrating that someone would not want to pay his fair share. But the third reason is that I resent the lack of respect these folks have, not just for me, but for the others in the room.

The football world is a small one. As you rise through the ranks and build relationships, make sure not to blatantly disregard civility and fairness. One way or another, it will come back to haunt you. I don’t hold grudges, but I also won’t let these three groups take advantage of me, or anyone I know, ever again.

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