Black Sports Agents Face A Double-Whammy

By Charles Hallman
Updated: May 3, 2007

MINNESOTA — According to draft experts, eight of the top 10 prospects in last weekend’s NFL College Draft were Black. The bigger question? How many of them had Black representation? “You hit a hot button for me,” says James C. Selmer of Selmer Sports Management in Minneapolis when I put that question to him. He’s listed in the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) Certified Contract Advisors Directory.

Since 1997, he has been certified by the league’s players union to represent NFL players. He’s qualified. A Wisconsin Law School graduate, “I have been involved in contract negotiations for many years,” notes Selmer. “I am a practicing lawyer for 30 years. [But] none of that seems to matter to the Black athlete.”

Convincing Black football players to select Black agents might be the hardest hurdle to overcome, says Fritz Pollard Alliance (FPA) Co-Counsel Byron Perkins. The FPA, co-founded by Cyrus Mehri and the late Johnnie Cochran, promotes diversity opportunity in NFL coaching, front office and scouting.

Mehri and Cochran’s 2002 study on the low number of Blacks as NFL head coaches eventually produced the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview Blacks for head coaching openings.

“We as African Americans have to start looking at the number of African American players out there and the number of African American agents actually representing those players,” claims Perkins, who was named to his present position in November 2006.

According to the Black Sports Agents Association (BSAA), which was founded in 1996, there are over 1,000 Black agents. However, the top Black players tend to hire White agents, says Perkins: “It is more difficult for Black potential agents to get access to the top-level players.”

Black players are misled into believing that Black agents can’t get them the big bucks, continues Selmer. He recalls a meeting with the mother of a potential high NFL draft pick who told him that she didn’t believe he was the right man despite his having successfully represented NFL, NBA and overseas players. He signed five players in last week’s NFL draft.

“In her opinion, I didn’t have a track record for representing players drafted in the first round,” the Minneapolis-based agent says sadly. “She discounted my experience.”

Instead, Selmer and other Black agents are dealing with young Black players, or their parents, or both, who are blindly led to believe that only Whites can negotiate fat contracts. “There are myriad reasons why they don’t have Black agents,” Selmer notes.

Tamika Williams Raymond of the Minnesota Lynx has a Russian agent because of his ties to foreign teams. “For me,” she says, “coming into [pro basketball], I thought I would be going overseas a lot and wanted to get someone who could get me the most money overseas,” adding that she would otherwise have considered a Black agent.

Selmer points out that he can do anything White agents can do: “I have a team of people in place who can serve [players] very well.” But he won’t stoop ethically to using “wink-wink” approaches such as offering players training money, which is against NFLPA rules. “We have a problem with this,” he adds.

What bothers Selmer even more is that “those African American players have the opportunity to redistribute wealth by acquiring African American agents. But what happens is [that] the revenue that comes to African American players comes from the White-owned football teams and gets redistributed back to the White agents, who propagate the notion that African American agents can’t do what [they] can do.”

“It is annoying to me to believe that some people of African American persuasion believe that God stopped handing out intelligential value to people of color,” says Selmer. “He only hands out that value to Caucasians. In other words, biologically [some Blacks] believe in their own inferiority and won’t believe that Blacks can do the job financially.”

A Black individual “with equal credentials” should always be considered, Selmer believes; this is the lesson he has taught his daughter. But instead, Black agents must deal with a double-whammy: “White players don’t hire Black agents, and Black players don’t hire Black agents,” Selmer observes.

Now that Blacks have shown they can be NFL head coaches, is a Rooney Rule for hiring more Blacks in NFL front-office roles now needed? “If you can show you can run a team, and can show you can make that team profitable and keep it profitable, then the same doors will open to you, regardless of color,” Perkins says.

“We’ve come a long way, but we’re still not where we should be,” he points out.

As for Black NFL agents, they are still stuck at the starting line — and sadly, in too many cases Black players are pouring the cement.

“It is a very tough business for African American agents to break through,” concludes Selmer.