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Monday, August 27, 2007
Interesting New Paper on Sports Agent Ethics

Melissa Neiman, a lawyer and a doctor, has posted an interesting new paper on ethical issues for attorneys serving as sports agents, Fair Game: Ethical Considerations in Negotiation by Sports Agents. You can download the paper free of charge from this site. The paper does a particularly good job of exploring the application of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct to ethical issues a sports agent-lawyer is likely to face. Here's an abstract of the paper:
Over the past several decades the sports agent has emerged as an increasingly important figure in the negotiation of contracts for professional athletes. Although agents may have varying backgrounds, attorneys now comprise more than 50% of all agents representing professional athletes. This paper will focus on the attorney as sports agent. The agent is subject to regulation by the federal government, some state governments and the players associations. In discussing the role of the players associations the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) will be focused on for exemplary purposes although other associations will be mentioned.

The agent is also bound by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“MRPC”) which include regulations regarding conflicts of interest and fees. Concurrent conflicts of interest may occur when an agent represents several athletes on one team or simultaneously represents athletes as well as coaches or management personnel. These conflicts are magnified in leagues in which an overall team salary cap exists. Careful examination of these conflicts and application of the MRPC clearly shows that the conflicts are unlikely to be resolved even with the athlete's express informed consent.

There are also ethical considerations regarding agents' fees, particularly when they are based on a percentage of the value of the contract negotiated by the agent. Arguably, these fees are not reasonable under the MRPC. Uniform rules should be established by players associations to identify conflicts of interest and prevent their occurrence. With regulations in place, ethical concerns in the negotiation process will be reduced so that the athletes' interests are more exclusively served by the agent.


I am glad to see that someone has written on this subject. I was wondering last week how agents manage their fiduciary duties owed to clients who happen play on the same team when the league for which they play has a salary cap in place.

For example, I wondered how Pat Dye Jr. (a stellar agent in Atlanta) handles the representation of clients Charles Grant and Jon Stinchcomb, who both play for the New Orleans Saints.

In the grand scheme of things, Mr. Dye is responsible for getting each player the most money he can within reason. However, he must get the money from the same pool.

Although Grant and Stinchcomb were former teammates at UGA, and likely have not a single problem with Mr. Dye's representation, the fact of the matter is that the NFL is a business. And when business issues become complex and contested, things can easliy run afoul.

I suspect that all this can be handled with extensive informed and written consent, but am looking forward to reading the paper.

Thanks to the author and those who made this information available.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/27/2007 4:22 PM  

I think that the article is interesting. However, this subject is not novel at all and, unfortunately, the author summarily makes the conclusion that if you have a law license and you are an agent you are, therefore, governed by the MRPC. This is just not a fact, it is not a law, and will depend upon the facts of each case (e.g., did the person market themselves as a lawyer or a sports agent, for example). Additionally, the article fails to address those with J.D.'s who do not practice law, it fails to address that negotiation of a contract in the sport industry is not necessarily an adversarial process requiring traditional advocacy, it fails to address the concept of freedom of choice and freedom of contract (e.g., isn't it in the best interest of some athletes to sign with a high profile agent to get more exposure that otherwise would not have been there?), but it does address something long overdue: the hidden agenda and conflict of interest involving an agent who represents coaches and players on the same team or in the same league. In the end, this article sounds like someone who looks at athletes as "victims" of a system which is broken and fails to give credit to the players associations who have enacted rules in recent years to govern conflicts of interest. (PS-what about agents who represent numerous clients in non-union sports?)

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