Shark season has begun in college football. As teams prepare for the many bowls, sports agents are circling the players whom the NFL plans to draft. Unfortunately, many African-American players and their families are not equipped to negotiate. They are not business-savvy like some of the families of white football players.
For instance, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel had his family's lawyer, Bradley Beckworth, help him select his NFL agent. Two agencies handled the former Heisman Trophy winner's endorsement deals. Beckworth told Bloomberg News in January that his job was to make sure Manziel was represented by agencies that are "committed to working together to provide his long-term security."
African-American student-athletes who hail from poor neighborhoods don't have the same resources. Often these players simply accept an agent's word as gospel because players don't have law degrees like the agents. Players find themselves in debt owing large amounts of money to agents or banks the agents took the athletes to.
The agents claim their three percent commission is non-negotiable when in fact the player can go lower. Agents also arrange financing with outrageous interest rates and fees for the players, putting them in debt before their first NFL game.
The problem is the NFL requires sports agents to have a law degree. Already, the league is putting a kid at a disadvantage. The NFL should follow the music industry's lead and add a clause in every player contract that they should have separate legal representation to go over the contract.
Some minority-owned firms represent players in this position. One of the first was the Black Sports Association, which Rev. Jesse Jackson helped start in 1996. These days, African-American agents, like Henry Thomas, represent some of the nation's highest-profile basketball athletes, including Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh of the Miami Heat.
But in professional football, the representation industry is still dominated by white men. In fact, it's another representation of how the professional football business is rooted in old time slavery.
The agents pay a black guy from the neighborhood $500 to $1,000 to bring the player to their offices to sign the athlete. It's no different from the Africans who were paid off by slave traders to identify and help capture black slaves fit for physical labor to get on a boat. Those Africans had to find black people who could be sold to the highest bidder. More than 200 years later, a similar system is in place with agents paying off a neighborhood opportunist to snare football players.
In this system, keeping young black men and their families in the dark about what the details of a contract stipulate is how agents control their players. That's about to change.
A new Miami firm, 40 Sports & Entertainment Group (full disclosure -- the company is owned by my wife, who is an agent and sports and entertainment lawyer), provides athletes who leave college for the pros with the legal advice to negotiate a fair contract with sports and marketing agencies. 40 Sports represents Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman and a couple of other college players who have already declared for the 2015 NFL draft. She's created a model that helps these young men even the playing field when they meet agents.
40 Sports is screwing with the matrix. Sports agents are thrown off their game when they see a football player enter the room with an intelligent, black person representing his interests. The agents can't use their tactics to bamboozle a potential client.
One agent, Liam Murphy who is partners with my protege Pitbull, tried to convince a college player who retained 40 Sports that he didn't need a lawyer in their contract negotiations. That's like a prosecutor telling criminals that they don't need a defense lawyer.
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The goal is to make sure these young men don't go broke once their careers are over. It gives the players and their families an added layer of protection. In the end, all football players deserves the same treatment afforded to Manziel.
Tune into Luke on The Andy Slater Show every Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. on Miami's Sports Animal 940 AM.