‘Dumb” has become the unfair adjective jealously attached to both blondes and jocks. In the case of professional athletes, a myth has sprung up that equates muscle with mental midgetry. Critics snipe that the players could not spell the signatures on their incredibly lavish contracts without the guiding hand of their agents to see them through.
Their supporters rebut, asking, “How much did you know about literary and endorsement rights at age 20?”
Yet all agree, even when representing the new Bill Bradley, the agent’s lot is not an easy one. So many lawyers and financial pundits would love the chance to rub up against the big leagues’ aura — with the big league remuneration — but it takes more than desire, as will be shown at a New Jersey Institute of Continuing Legal Education seminar on Thursday, April 20, at 9 a.m. at the Newark Club in Newark. Cost: $119. Visit www.njicle.com.
This seminar is moderated by attorney Thomas Curtin of Graham, Curtin & Sheridan in Morristown. Panelists include NFL agent Arthur Weiss of the Arthur Weiss law firm in Franklin Lakes; Richard Anslow of Anslow & Jaclin in Manalapan; Adolpho Birch, labor relations counsel for the NFL; major league baseball and boxing agent Lee Marc Burg of Lee Marc Burg law offices in Philadelphia; and NBA player agent Leon Rose of Pennsauken-based Sherman, Silverstein, Khol, Rose & Podolsky.
“Athlete representation is tough, competitive work, which I fell into rather serendipitously,” says Weiss. Born in Manhattan, Weiss grew up in Franklin Lakes, where he now practices. He confesses to not being a great athlete himself in high school or college, but always loved sports. Upon graduating from New York University in l972 with a bachelor’s degree in history, and then earning his law degree, Weiss hung out his own shingle, practicing general law. Increasingly, he leaned toward corporate contract and business law. “I had no idea how handy this was to come in later on,” he says.
In the late l980s Weiss began doing some real estate work for New York Giants linebacker Gary Reasons, whose career ran from l984 through l992. Impressed by Weiss’s straightforward manner and negotiating skills, Reasons urged him to get certified with the NFL as a professional agent. Weiss did so, and word of mouth did the rest.
Since then he has represented many top NFL professionals, including Wayne Chrebet of the Jets, Dan Klecko of the New England Patriots, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Glen Foley.
Players get savvy. “It’s not at all like it was even 10 years ago,” says Weiss. “Athletes turning professional today are far more educated and equipped to ask the right questions.” Much of this Weiss credits to an explosion of information available to them even before tryouts. The Internet, countless handbooks, and player biographies all carry tips and caveats.
It used to be that players would be greeted and hustled in hotel lobbies by a series of slick agents. The slick agents, short on knowledge and big on greed, still cluster, but most of the players walk right on by. “These players come into my office, bringing their family and their attorney,” says Weiss. “And I am just one of several agents they interview to see if I measure up.”
Curtin agrees that players are becoming sharper and more cautious about their own interests. For years Curtin was an agent for several major league baseball professionals. He recalls one player who was given $1 million to sign and, upon hearing that banks only insure deposits up to $100,000, went and placed his signing bonus in 10 different banks. “I know it sounds simplistic, but this athlete was taking care of his own funds,” says Curtin.
Getting the most. When an athlete signs on, Weiss rolls up his sleeves. He helps arrange training and other schedules. If the football player is invited, he’ll accompany him out to the Indianapolis Combine, where all the NFL coaches look over the new crop. “My goal is to give my player the maximum exposure — to market his skills to his best advantage,” says Weiss. This may mean additional trips and interviews with potential teams.
When the player is signed, Weiss really begins to earn his percentage. He comes to the table having studied the rookie pool, the team’s salary structure, and his man’s specific value for the upcoming season.
Armed with this knowledge, he negotiates for the top salary — and much more. Signing bonuses are the biggest goal. Incentive clauses for good performance, length of contract, and trigger points for early free agency are all part of the package. For many players, becoming free agents may spark competitive bidding, but this is not always the case.
“There is no one single way to handle a client,” says Weiss. “Each client has different skills, which suit each team differently. You’ve got to assess that and make the most of it.”
Weiss says that no team has provided him with an enjoyable experience during negotiations. “I’m here trying to get them to part with what they most value — money,” he says. But the teams that he has found most professional and fair in getting the deals done are the Patriots, the Jets, the Rams, and the 49ers.
Price of fame. Almost every professional player can get some kind of endorsement side deal. The best ones can get literary rights. It all depends on the status and value of the player. The agent tries to craft the most advantageous endorsement deals. And if he is lucky enough to represent an unusually talented and charismatic athlete, this is not necessarily difficult.
“The good player can pick and choose what endorsements he wants to make,” says Weiss. Fees for a single day’s shooting may begin at $20,000 to $100,000 and roll up to untold amounts, depending on residuals. Here again, it is part of the agent’s job to advise his athlete on which endorsements best fit in with the image he is trying to project.
Awash in cash. The complaint that professional athletes make too much money has reached the point of cliche for years now. Yet somewhere out there is a public willing to pay to watch the best athletes compete on a big stage — and there are television and radio stations eager to spend tens of millions of dollars to bring the action to those who can’t make it to the stadium. The media outlets, in turn, have a large cadre of advertisers happy to pay astronomical sums to grab the fans’ attention.
With all this money being spent to create this entertainment, who more deserves a major piece of it than the very individuals playing the sport — and all too often incurring injuries that will affect them throughout their lives?
Granted seven or eight-figure salaries and millions more in endorsement money, it is not surprising that players, some barely out of high school, may make a bit of financial splash. Yet Weiss says that out-of-control spending is not the norm. “People do not realize how smart these professional athletes are,” he says. “With very few exceptions, I have found them to be level-headed, and very bright people who put money away and keep their name out of the papers for negative things.”