If you read my account of the NFLPA’s annual seminar in Indianapolis Thursday, you know things turned pretty ugly, pretty fast.
The root of the problem is that the bigger agencies, which have deep pockets, can do things that the smaller agencies simply cannot do. What’s more, there’s a perception (probably warranted) that the bigger firms have the ear of the NFLPA, while the mid-sized and smaller firms are mostly dismissed. As a result, the smaller firms, which would like to be able to bill players on practice squads and that are very concerned that fees are about to be cut from 3 percent to 2 percent, are incredibly frustrated. They feel they have no voice.
The solution that I most often hear is that agents themselves need to unionize. Many agents see it as the only way to have leverage against the players association. They view it as a way to demand accountability. But there are three problems.
Number one, the big firms would never join.
Number two, it’s the players association, not the agents association, and their certification could be pulled at any time. The union’s one and only concern is satisfying its bosses, i.e., the players.
Number three, the players association sees the agents as largely disposable. There are more than 800 agents, and every summer, about 200 new agents pony up $2,500 for the right to take the test. There’s always another crop ready to take over for the agents that exit the game. What’s more, only about 150-250 agents represent the veterans in the business. The union doesn’t really feel that the other 600 or so agents are necessary beyond being an easy revenue stream.
As a result of last week’s ugliness, Executive Director DeMaurice Smith made a ‘if it’s such a big deal, why doesn’t someone volunteer to be a spokesman’ kind of statement, and one agent did — Hot Springs, Ark.-based Chris Turnage of United Athlete Agents, a solid, mid-sized firm that’s gaining momentum. Chris is serious about this, and wants to be part of the solution. One of the best things about Chris is that he’s not a cynical, hard-edged kind of guy. He’s certainly no pushover, but he’s not a guy that’s naturally angry all the time (there are plenty of those folks in the business) and he’s not a guy with a huge ego.
I’m hopeful Chris will be able to affect change, or at least move things in the right direction. Of course, he’s not going to be able to do it alone. It will take cooperation from a lot of people to move the needle at all, but at least there’s reason for hope.