Frequently Asked Questions About
Working in Sports
Where do I even start?? I take great comfort in the fact that most insanely successful people have experienced catastrophic failure more than once in their lives. On the way to where I am currently, I have experienced more defeat than I ever thought possible. I have been fired by clients I never EVER expected to fire me. I have put all my eggs in one basket. I have trusted the wrong people far too often than I care to admit. I have assumed that others have the same good intentions that I do. But here is the important part: with every mistake I have LEARNED an important lesson. But I have not grown bitter or cynical. Certainly this would be easy to do. Instead, I believe that each decision I make leads me to a place of better understanding. Wisdom is born of experience. And the more you experience failure, the more you develop as a person and as a leader. Without mistakes and failure, I never would have learned how to be a better business person and leader. Without the opportunity to overcome adversity – even the adversity created by my own bad decisions – I never would have grown! I think the best advice I can give is this: trust your gut. Listen. Love. Trust but verify. And never EVER compromise your values and principles. In the end, you will WIN. And failure is never final. It is simply an opportunity to learn and improve.
I have several at the top of my list. Standing with the father of my first NFL client as his son ran onto the field is moment I will never forget. (Tears were streaming down both our faces. And we went to Waffle House afterwards to celebrate!) Sitting in the green room at Radio City Music Hall during the 2010 NFL Draft as my client was announced as the #3 overall pick was truly the thrill of a lifetime. And history was made. It may sound silly now, but one of the best parts of that particular evening was checking my phone after the fact and seeing dozens and dozens of messages from scouts, GM’s, fellow agents and others in the sports business congratulating me and my client. It was a dream come true for both of us!
I always respond this way: it is hard for ANYONE to get into this business! Male, female, black, white…doesn’t matter. NFL agency is a fiercely competitive industry. However, it is all too common for people to state – often to my face – that women should not be representing NFL players. They say women could not possibly represent NFL players effectively because they never played football. Or they are too emotional. Or they are not skilled negotiators. NONE of those are true. Granted, I’ve never played football. But neither have many of my colleagues. And there is significant evidence to contradict the other negative assertions about women in the industry. Can you imagine people being told in any industry “We aren’t interested in considering you for this position because you are black/hispanic/muslim/etc.”? But somehow it is acceptable to say this to a woman? This type of discrimination is part of life for most women who work in sports business, particularly in football. But it is not right. At the same time, I realize exactly what I am up against, therefore I understand the challenge. I must prove that I am not only capable of handling the duties of an NFL agent, but I am capable of doing so with excellence that exceeds the ability of my competitors.
I actually wrote an Op-Ed on this particular topic, and it was picked up by Fox News, albeit with an unfortunate headline attached.
There is no such thing as a typical day! But I can tell you most of my days are long, and no two are the same. During certain times of the year I am on a plane multiple times a week. My day always starts the same way: praying, reading and organizing my to-do list. The calls, texts and emails start early…sometimes at 6:00 am or earlier. I try to get in a run or workout, then get ready to go to the office or attack the day if I am on the road. Depending on the time of year, I may be focused on taking care of the legal and business needs of my existing clients in the NFL, baseball or Olympic sports while also recruiting new clients. I will also be talking to general managers, personnel directors and pro scouts about my free agents, or talking to player development directors and coaches about my current NFL athletes. I handle everything from draft preparation, to contract negotiation to relocation services. That is in addition to doing legal work including estate planning, non-profit organization applications and corporate representation. I also spend a significant amount of time handling media and marketing requests, and related logistics and paperwork. In the middle of all this, I try to be as accessible as possible to each of my clients for guidance, counseling and wisdom. Oh, and while doing all this I am still practicing law (a little) as an Of Counsel attorney at an OKC law firm, teaching Sports Law as an Adjunct Professor, and continuing to speak and write on issues surrounding sports, diversity, faith and leadership.
Old fashioned hard work and lots and lots of networking! To be honest, I had no idea where to start. I was a former athlete and had always loved sports. But I knew nothing about the sports industry or how to get started. So I started from scratch. I researched NFL teams and agents. I contacted anyone and everyone, trying to get advice and develop connections. Initially, very few people responded. But I refused to quit. Just after I found out I had passed the certification exam, I sent out letters to every NFL front office introducing myself and asking to set up a call or meeting. Only one response came in – from a lawyer working in the Tennessee Titans front office. He recommended I get in touch with one of their scouts, C.O. Brocato, who was going to be coming through Oklahoma on a scouting trip. I reached out to C.O., and luckily he was willing to meet with me the following week. C.O. was pushing 80 years old, but was sharp as a tack. We met for dinner (at 4:30 in the afternoon) at an Outback Steakhouse in Norman. I told C.O. about my aspirations and questioned him endlessly about the business. I will never forget the many, many lessons he shared that day. But the thing I remember most was him pointing at me and saying “You’re going to be one of the best in the business. I can already see it.” When someone else believes in you – and tells you they believe in you – it is a total game-changer. C.O. would later introduce me to dozens of scouts, coaches and other front office personnel at the NFL Combine. My advice to you? Be a constant student of the industry. Never stop learning and always look for opportunities to connect with others. Opportunities come through people; therefore, relationships will always be key to your success.
If you’re talking about a certificate you can get from an online sports agent course, no. But if you want to negotiate player contracts in any major sport, you must be certified by the players’ association for that league. Each sport has its own certification process, as well as rules and regulations governing agents. For the NFL specifically, aspiring agents must submit an application to the NFLPA and, if approved, pass a certification exam. For more information about the process, click here.
The degree or degrees you need depend on what areas of the business interest you. You do not need a degree in sports management, though more and more colleges offer such programs. But a graduate degree (particularly a JD or MBA) will give you a definitive advantage. And if you want to be a certified NFL agent, it is required. As for undergraduate degrees or courses, my recommendations include business management, marketing, and journalism/public relations.
Passion, commitment, sacrifice, determination, intense work ethic…and so much more. Loving sports is not enough. Being a former athlete helps, but is definitely not enough. Even being a lawyer is not enough. Agents wear many hats and have to handle a broad range of situations, problems and personalities. Agents must be able to evaluate talent, recruit and communicate effectively. They must also be able to advocate, negotiate and manage expectations. In my opinion, agents must also be compassionate and committed to excellence in their duties as fiduciaries.
No. I grew up wanting to work in television and go to law school (though I wasn’t sure what I would do with my law degree).
No. I can’t even watch it anymore – it stresses me out!