Scoring with Multimillion Dollar Contracts

By Norment, Lynn | Ebony, August 1992 | Go to article overview

Scoring with Multimillion Dollar Contracts


Norment, Lynn, Ebony


IN the lucrative, fast-paced world of sports, some of the fiercest competition unfolds not on the field, court or track. Rather, it is in conference rooms, locker rooms, dining rooms and even in living rooms that sports agents jockey for the advantage.

With millions of dollars in commissions at stake, sports agents and attorneys must first outmaneuver competitors to secure the client, and then negotiate lucrative player contracts that make headline news. In most cases, agents exert considerable influence on how and where professional athletes invest their money and charitable efforts. It is a cutthroat business in which the competition rivals that of opponents during the NBA playoffs, and in many cases the majority Black players and their communities are the losers. For like coaching and sports franchise ownership, the business of sports management is still dominated by Whites.

But a few hearty pioneers and a handful of upstarts have made inroads and opened doors and, more importantly, minds to Black representation in this elite club of players. In 1988, Fort Wayne, Ind., sports attorney Eugene E. Parker signed Heisman Trophy winner Tim Brown and negotiated a $3 million contract for the L.A. Raiders wide receiver. Parker represents 20 other players, including superathlete Deion Sanders, who is noted for hitting triples for the Atlanta Braves and intercepting passes for the Atlanta Falcons.

Sports agent William L. Strickland negotiated a $12 million-plus contract for 1989 first-round NBA draft pick Pervis Ellison, now of the Washington Bullets. Los Angeles attorney W. Jerome Stanley, agent for Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee and other athletes, made headlines in 1990 when he negotiated a $16.5 million contract for Reggie Lewis of the Boston Celtics. And sports agents C. Lamont Smith of Denver and R. David Ware of Atlanta negotiated a $9.3 million contract for 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions.

And Henry I. Thomas of the Chicago law firm Carney & Brothers negotiated a contract for Tim Hardaway of the Golden State Warriors that will make Hardaway the highest-paid point guard in the NBA, outdistancing Magic Johnson's $3.1 million salary. It is also notable that David Cornwell, former assistant counsel and director of equal employment for the National Football League, is now an agent with Steinberg & Moorad, a major sports law firm in Los Angeles that represents more than 100 athletes.

While these successes signal progress, it must be noted that Black agents negotiate less than 5 percent of contracts for professional athletes. Yet Blacks comprise 75 percent of NBA players (whose contracts total some $356 million), 60 percent of the NFL and 18 percent of Major League Baseball. "While there has been change, it is not sufficient," says William L. Strickland, president of the basketball division of International Management Group, one of the world's three largest sports management firms. "And in many ways, things have not changed."

Veteran sports agent Fred L. Slaughter agrees. Starting center on UCLA's 1964 championship basketball team, Slaughter has been in the business of sports management for 22 years. Blacks are finally getting a toehold ... based on qualifications," says Slaughter, who has among his clients several athletes and the National Association of Basketball Referees. "What determines how large the toehold gets is the fairness perception on the part of athletes, and whether they can shake the system from whence they come to fairly look at the qualified minority representatives and give them a fair chance. There are elements in the system that mill not give minorities a fair chance. It's the old guys network, and that is what kills you."

Slaughter and other top Black sports attorneys and agents say the biggest hurdle they must jump is racial stereotyping and the perception among athletes that Blacks are not as adept as Whites at handling business and money matters. …

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