Not long ago sports agents worked behind the scenes to promote their clients, helping them get the most lucrative deal. But recently they have become celebrities and sports representation appears to be a glamorous business. Agents socialize with famous athletes, get tickets to the biggest games, and get invited to various VIP parties.
And then there are the scandals that rip through the profession.
Last May U.S. District Judge Stephen Mickle ordered Tank Black to serve the new sentence after finishing the 6-year, 10-month sentence he started serving in June 2001 after laundering $1.1 million for a drug ring in Detroit. Black's co-defendant, Linda Wilson, was also sentenced to five years by Mickle for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and defraud the government. NFL players such as Fred Taylor and Ike Hilliard both testified they were defrauded through bogus investments which Black had a hand in.
The most recent scandal that's caught everyone's interest involves former high powered agent Leigh Stienberg and his former partner David Dunn, presently a powerful player representative.
Steinberg is suing Dunn for breach of contract, among other things, because Dunn left the firm and took more than half of Steinberg's NFL clients with him, as well as employees of the company. Steinberg is seeking damages of more than $40 million.
Dunn denies any wrongdoing and is counter suing for invasion of privacy and false advertising, seeking unspecified damages. The case is getting downright ugly with a lot of mudslinging already underway.
The trial is expected to feature a variety of personal and professional allegations about Steinberg that are so bad his lawyer, Brock Gowdy, has already fired a pre-emptive strike.
Reading aloud a memo in court written by Brian Murphy, formerly Steinberg's right-hand man and now chief operating officer of Athletes First, which represents about 50 of Steinberg's former NFL clients, Gowdy showed the jury a statement that said Steinberg would never sue because he could not allow details of his personal life to become public.
"Leigh has a lot of secrets," Gowdy read aloud from the Murphy memo, which claims Steinberg "has taken a lot of prescription drugs, including...drugs for sexual dysfunction. He used to be a complete alcoholic. He has had affairs." Many feel if the allegations are true, Steinberg's career as an NFL agent is in serious jeopardy.
But this is only half of the story and the player representatives job is not one of all glitz and glamour. An agent is responsible for playing many roles when it comes to dealing with their clients: contract negotiator, financial consultant, counselor, motivator and confidant. Being an agent is a 24-hour, 365-day-a-year job.
"From the outside looking in it appears to be glamorous, but it's a lot of hard work," said Brian Parker, managing director of Memphis, Tennessee, based Mid-South Sports Management. "There is a wide margin between the perception and reality to just how glamorous the business really is," Parker said. "Most people don't see you working nights and weekends."
Agents admit the sleaze factor is off the charts as they pursue new clients. Deceit, misrepresentation, flash, entourages, runners with money and limos are all part of the game. Since there's so much money at stake its' only going to get worse. Parker doesn't see the trend changing anytime soon. "I think most agents would agree it's going to take some sort of federal legislation to clean up the business."
Parker operates out of a mid-sized southern market and has been able to sign quality NFL players such as cornerback DeShea Townsend and Atlanta Falcon linebacker Matt Stewart, on a consistent basis, even though it is against the odds. One telling stat is the amount of agents who have not a single client; of the over 1,100 certified agents, 800 do not have a client.
There are sacrifices for those who do have clients. "It's definitely hard to keep up your relationships outside of the sports community," Parker said. An agent really never has personal time and the demands of celebrity often take a toll on a pro athlete, which is when Parker is needed the most. Whether it's providing a listening ear, or allowing the players to use him as a go-between for all money requests, Parker always seems to be there. He has even testified at a players divorce hearing.
After the glitz, glamour, money and Jerry Maguire syndrome, the life of an agent is one of hard work and constant hustle if it is done the right way. Those who take the shortcut choose deceit and end up paying for their crimes. Here's an idea of two paths taken.