Commentary

African-American agents, and us

The responsibility for achieving equal opportunities for minority agents starts at home

Originally Published: February 9, 2012
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

Reparation: The act or process of making amends, according to Webster's. A word rarely heard or used in sports. But recently, the concept came up in a column written in the Miami New Times by Luther Campbell and directed to NFL superagent Drew Rosenhaus.

Take a moment and read it here.

[+] EnlargeLuther Campbell
AP Photo/Alan DiazLuther Campbell called out Drew Rosenhaus in a recent column.

The pertinent paragraph: "I'm sick and tired of Rosenhaus getting rich off the African-American community. He needs to give back. He can start by teaching football players from an early age about fiscal responsibility and saving for a rainy day."

I wonder how Luke really feels?

We'll get to what I think about whether Rosenhaus owes the black community anything a little later, but first there is a more subliminal point to make. The point of origin. Because a significant part of America's history has been and continues to be about "others" coming into black and minority neighborhoods, recognizing talent and exploiting it for profit without investing back into the areas where the talent was cultivated.

It's the story of jazz, of rhythm & blues and soul, of boxing and basketball, of hip-hop and Hollywood.

It's typical; it's cyclical. It's a story that is getting old. Sports has been and will continue to be one of the main railroads to a form of advanced slavery that isn't underground. Many people (white and black) looking for a come-up will look to black and other minority neighborhoods to try to find their financial salvations. Once they're finished with it, they never look back. Or give back. Pimps do it all the time.

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This, then, is the question that needs addressing: Particularly when it comes to different ethnicities coming into black/African-American areas, communities and households, why do we allow this to keep happening to us?

It no longer is about why some sports agents from outside of the 'hood are continually allowed to "visit" and take talent without essentially giving anything back. It's about how it's been eight years since Eugene Parker negotiated a contract for Larry Fitzgerald to make Fitzgerald then the highest-paid rookie in NFL history; but, of the 96 players (76 of whom are African-American) chosen in the first rounds of the 2009, 2010 and 2011 NFL drafts, only 18 were represented by black agents. That's 18.75 percent representation. Barely above the 15.62 percent representation of black head coaches in the League.

It's a perpetual issue. More than 15 years ago, I addressed it in a feature story for The Source Sports. In 2003, David Aldridge went further in depth and detail for ESPN.com. During Black History Month four years ago, George Tanber did the same. The fact that black athletes are still looking past, over and around black agents continues to be an/the issue at the core of why the demand for a sports version of reparations still exists.

[+] EnlargeDeion Sanders
AP Photo/Scott HeckelEugene Parker, helping Deion Sanders into his Hall of Fame blazer last summer, has been a fixture for years. But he doesn't have much company from other African-American agents.

But Campbell's demand for Rosenhaus to funnel money back into the black community or "teach players about fiscal responsibility" is secondary to a more systemic problem. One that, after years and years with no cure, can be looked upon by some -- including this writer -- as epidemic.

In Aldridge's 2003 report, sports agent C. Lamont Smith made this point: "People got complacent after we had some limited success and we didn't talk about it anymore. Only when there's public discussion of the issue will there be change."

So here we are again. Bringing up the issue once more, hopin' that one day change gonna come. Because it's better to be hopeful than hopeless. And, in this case, bringing this issue back into the conversation is the reminder that our struggle in sports continues.

My point: Greg Townsend is a classic example of what black and minority agents have to face and why "the white man" giving back won't repair it.

As the story was told by former NFL agent Josh Luchs in a piece for Sports Illustrated called "Confessions of an Agent," Townsend, while playing for the Raiders, befriended a ball boy. The ball boy, Luchs, got in good with the player. Townsend even had the kid drop a urine sample for him to help him try to pass an NFL drug test. (Townsend eventually was suspended for testing positive and wasn't able to use the ball boy's sample.) In Townsend's mind, the ball boy, all of 19 years old at the time, seemed to "care about the players" and because of that -- and the fact that the kid was a "New York Jewish guy" just like Raiders owner Al Davis -- Townsend suggested that the ball boy become his agent.

[+] EnlargeRay Lewis and Andre Farr
Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty ImagesThe Ravens' Ray Lewis and Black Sports Agents Association CEO Andre Farr at a BSAA celebration in 2009.

No experience, no history working on the business side of football, no knowledge of contracts and negotiations. But a professional football player was about to entrust the financial aspects of his multimillion-dollar career to a kid who had just finished high school.

Do any of us really believe that if that kid were black, the same opportunity would have been suggested? Or that the athlete would have had a similar epiphany?

The problem here ends with trust. It ends when so many black athletes and entertainers stop thinking non-black water is wetter. It ends when more minority agents are given the same opportunities to manage careers that their white counterparts seem to be afforded.

As Andre Farr, the chairman and CEO of the BSAA (Black Sports Agents Association), says: "Until we have a paradigm shift in how we look at and feel about ourselves as black people, our growth as sports professionals and [in] other professions will continue to be slow yet steady. We are still looking for our tipping point."

Rosenhaus owes black folks or the black community nothing. Neither does Mark Bartelstein, Joel Segal, Ben Dogra, or anyone at IMG or CAA. Not that Luke is necessarily wrong, but the problem he's discussing is not the fault of the exploiter.

It's in the athletes. It's in us.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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