A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Jean Fugett: A Famous Son Of Baltimore Re-emerges
BALTIMORE — Not the least of the buzz at the gala June opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture came from the reappearance of Jean S. Fugett Jr., former NFL tight end, former CEO of TLC Beatrice, half-brother of Reg Lewis and once one of Baltimore’s most prominent sons.
“Where have you been?” everybody asked, as Fugett cruised through the atrium in a tux. “Yeah, Jean, I thought you were in Paris. I didn’t know you were back in Baltimore. … What HAVE you been doing?”
Good question. But the answer – fighting grief, diabetes, depression, unemployment and a brush with bankruptcy – might have ruined the moment.
Fugett dropped off the map after leaving in 1994 as boss of TLC Beatrice, a billion-dollar food and household products company he ran after the 1993 death of Lewis, who had shepherded it as the nation’s largest African-American-owned company.
After selling a stake in a French business, Fugett lost money on an investment in voice mail with audio sports highlights, gained weight, contracted diabetes and then, in the late 1990s, would sometimes find himself weeping as he injected insulin into his arm. Depression and diabetes often go together.
“I really haven’t had a job in five years,” he says. “I just had no motivation. I could not possibly imagine at that time doing anything any better than I had done already, or to even ask God to give me any more.”
These days, he can, and he wants to talk. Partly it’s to discuss the past – to answer queries that probably haven’t stopped since the gala, and presumably for therapeutic purposes. (“When you are able to discuss your frailties, that’s the road to recovery,” says Carolyn Fugett, 80, Jean’s mother and my vote for Baltimore’s wisest person.) But mainly Fugett wants to talk about launching a product that might be even more unorthodox than sports-highlights voice mail: non-sleazy money advice for professional athletes that will have them invest responsibly and plan for the future instead of letting them blow paychecks on Porsches and hookers.
Gerald R. Veydt, 51, is a Towson insurance agent and stockbroker. He approached Fugett last year to help him add sports figures to a portfolio that includes “high net worth” Baltimore families and what he says is some $40 million or $50 million under management.
A friend of former Baltimore Colt Randy McMillan who spent decades watching retired athletes lose money on bad restaurants and wacky commodities schemes, Veydt thought he had something to offer. In 2001, he became one of the first to register as a financial adviser with the NFL Players Association, which was trying to shield jocks from fools and charlatans.
But Veydt could never get past athletes’ agents, and realized he needed a partner. Fugett, who played for the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins in the 1970s, had been a lawyer-agent before he joined Beatrice, representing Cowboys’ defensive lineman Tony Tolbert, among others.
Veydt saw Fugett’s name in a list of agents, recognized it and called him. They talked. And gradually Veydt, a white guy from Dundalk, was drawn into the life of a black guy from West Baltimore who rose far above his origins only to hit a rough patch in middle age.
Part of Fugett’s funk probably came from Reg Lewis’ death. The older brother – the family never says “half-brother” – was Fugett’s hero and friend and in 1993 he was dead six months after being diagnosed with brain cancer.
Part of it was leaving Beatrice, which Lewis had acquired in a leveraged buyout in the 1980s. Lewis chose Fugett as his successor, but Fugett left a year later, facing pressure to cut costs amid soft results and what he says was an impossible dilemma – pleasing minority shareholders who wanted higher stock values or family members who wanted the lowest tax possible on Lewis’ estate.
Fugett says his departure was “a family decision.” Time magazine and others have reported that he was ousted by Reg Lewis’ widow, Loida, who owned most of the stock and decided to run the company herself.
Part of it was the letdown after getting everything relatively easily his first 40 years – entering Amherst College at 16, becoming the NFL’s youngest player at 20 in 1972, playing in the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, getting a law degree from George Washington University and then running a major corporation.
And part of it was the diabetes, a disease all too common for African-Americans that often produces mood swings and despair.
“He was really on a merry-go-round,” his mother said. “You finish college, you play football and then you go with your brother” at Beatrice. “Seeing Reginald live and die for both my sons” – businessman Anthony Fugett is the other – “was very difficult.”
Fugett wasn’t completely idle while unemployed. He worked on projects such as a Beatrice memoir and researching the identities of the first black athletes at every Division I university.
He helped “old ladies and widows” his mother referred to him for legal help. He did some broadcasting, gave speeches and lived through his three children, attending every game and PTA meeting and giving them all the energy he wasn’t giving himself.
But money got tight. Eventually the Fugetts lost their health insurance, he says. His wife of 18 years, Carlotta, had to take two jobs. Creditors sued. Last year Fugett filed for bankruptcy protection.
The bankruptcy, however, never went through. Fugett says he finally requested financial aid from his family after refusing for years to ask them for help, and Veydt says he assisted, too.
“This is going to sound disingenuous, but I did that more as a human being than as a business proposition,” Veydt says.
Even so, it’s a win-win proposition if they sign even half the clients they aim to get. The idea is to have a sports-agent concern run by Fugett (Integrated Artist and Athlete Management), a money-management outfit run by Veydt ( Integrated Financial Services), and to sell professionals a complete package of contract-negotiation, career-advice and lifelong financial management.
Too many agents aim for the biggest deal and leave athletes on their own to manage their fortunes, Veydt and Fugett say. Many athletes don’t even know about the disability insurance that leagues make available, he says.
“We’re going to the player and saying, ‘Look, if you sign with us, the day you sign your contract with us, [even] if you never take a snap in the NFL, you will be protected financially for the rest of your life and your family’s life,’” Veydt says.
Fugett says the near-bankruptcy reignited his energy and ambition. He calls himself “the anti-Drew Rosenhaus,” referring to the Miami super-agent who recently had the Philadelphia Eagles’ Terrell Owens threaten to reject the $49 million contract he signed last year. “The need has gotten so critical in my mind for an honest agent that will educate and inform,” he said, instead of merely doing big-headline deals.
Rosenhaus did not respond to two phone messages.
Both Fugett and Veydt acknowledge that Fugett’s recent difficulties do not present him as an ideal fiduciary. But he won’t be managing the money; Veydt will, they say.
Veydt’s insistence that Fugett become educated about personal finance was one big reason he decided to join him, the former football star says.
While still in what they call “the soft opening” of the new operation, the partners say they have deals with Woodlawn hurdler Joel Brown and sprinter Rachelle Boone-Smith and ambitious plans to create a network of retired athletes to become co-agents with them.
“We are positioned to just do something really big,” Veydt says.
And they have the support of Carolyn Fugett, who says she met Veydt and approves of him.
“I’ve never been disappointed in my son,” she said. “I have urged him to heal. And he has.”