Blind Ambition, Blank Checks, And Blurred Morality: Life As An NFL Agent

For years, we've looked at the landscape and separated the characters into a couple different categories. You have the good guys, the bad guys, the victims, and the rest of us, watching from afar while the whole saga unfolds. That's like the TV show Cops, and for most people, that's really all they need to understand the world of sports business.

But if you're interested in more nuance, go read this week's Sports Illustrated. If the traditional narrative around agents and sports is like Cops, Josh Luchs' first-person account of his time as an NFL agent reads more like The Wire. And really, it's that good.

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Some choice excerpts after the jump.

The agent in question, a man named Josh Luchs, admits to having paid players during the early part of his career, and writes of the lessons he learned from all his interactions. First, there's this notion out there that players are victims of these sinister, faceless demons in expensive suits, dangling temptation in front of them. That's maybe true sometimes, but Luchs clarifies:

Joel Steed of Colorado; Rob Waldrop, the Outland Trophy winner from Arizona; and Travis Claridge of USC all took my money but signed with someone else, as did many others. When I called those players and asked them why they didn't sign with me, they always had the same line: "Sorry, I gotta do what is best for me and my family."

One of the misconceptions about the agent business is that the kids are victims, preyed on by people like me. When Alabama coach Nick Saban and others rail against the agent business, they don't mention that most of the time the player or someone from his family approaches us. Guys see that one of their teammates has some cash, ask him about it, and suddenly my phone rings.

And then there's Ryan Leaf, the "whale" that was supposed to change Luchs' life:

For all of 1997, Ryan was the main focus of my recruiting. At the time I was losing my parents. My mother died in October 1996, and then two months later my father learned he had an inoperable brain tumor.

Ryan knew what I was going through. One day, he came with me to my dad's house, and while he was there my dad got very upset, talking about how he hated that his illness prevented me from doing my job. Ryan told him, "Don't worry. Josh doesn't need to recruit any other players. He's got me."

Leaf later signed with Leigh Steinberg, of course. Because nobody's innocent in the world depicted here. But not everybody's completely guilty, either--Leaf later repayed $10,000 to Luchs for gifts that he'd received in college. 

And then there's Gary Wichard, the agent currently accused of paying a UNC assistant coach to push players toward his agency. Here he is lecturing a young Luchs about ethics:

Immediately, Gary told me that he recruited differently and that the Wild West way I learned under Doc wasn't going to fly. He said I needed to be "reprogrammed." There would be no more partying with players, no more paying players. That was music to my ears.

And it goes on. With each anecdote, the picture gets blurrier and, in a sense, more accurate.

For instance, the section about Hollywood's recent foray into sports business rings as true as any and bears more relevance to the games than you think--it's not necessarily coincidence that CAA clients Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James all landed in Miami this summer. But that's just one of many nuggets that emerge from this. The stories about Mel Kiper, Jr. making recruiting calls to college kids, Keyshawn Johnson turning down cash, recruiting pitches to steal away clients from rivals... It's all there, and part of an uncompromising look at the industry from someone that no longer has a vested interest in any of it.

It's complicated, uncompromising, and ultimately, inconclusive. Check it out.

There are no easy answers here, and we can leave the Cops morality play to bureaucracies like the NCAA. This is something more. And more honest. There are no victims, just players on different sides, and a bunch of rules that make no sense. All in the game...

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