SBJ/December 17 - 23, 2001/Labor Agents

Reference to Condon client Upshaw in IMG recruiting book upsets rivals

As recruiting season for the 2002 NFL draft begins in earnest, some NFL agents are upset that powerful agent Tom Condon mentions in his recruiting pamphlets that he represents NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw.

Included in IMG's voluminous recruiting book is a line that Condon, president of IMG football, who has represented 20 first-round picks (and two No. 1's) in the last five drafts, also reps Upshaw, executive director of the union.

"Saying you represent Gene Upshaw [to college players] is like saying you represent God," said a rival NFL player agent who provided SportsBusiness Journal with the recruiting materials. This agent, who asked not to be identified, said colleges and others point to the union as the unbiased protector of players.

The head of the union, this agent argued, should be unbiased and should not choose one NFL agent to represent him, since he supervises and certifies all NFL agents.

Another NFL agent, who also asked not to be identified, said, "I think it is an unfair competitive advantage."

Upshaw's response: "If this is an unfair competitive advantage, [Condon] has had it for 20 years."

Noting that Condon has represented him in his contract negotiations since the early 1980s, Upshaw said, "This is not a secret. This is nothing new."

Upshaw, an NFL hall of famer, was a guard for the Oakland Raiders when he played against Condon, a guard for the Kansas City Chiefs. Although bitter rivals on the playing field, the two became friends off the field, especially while working together at the NFLPA. (Condon was NFLPA president from 1984 to 1986, and Upshaw became the executive director of the union in 1983.)

Condon said he has been friends with Upshaw for 25 years. "I think Gene should have anyone he wants to represent him, and I feel honored that he chose me," he said.

Condon added that there is nothing wrong with him mentioning his relationship with Upshaw in his recruiting pamphlets, saying, "It's a fact."

Upshaw said, "Just because Tom Condon represents me doesn't mean he has an advantage over anyone else." Upshaw noted that he does not sit on the board that disciplines agents, and that an outside arbitrator is the final authority on agent fines and penalties.

Marvin Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association and an outspoken voice on potential conflicts in sports, said he thinks Upshaw should get a lawyer outside of sports to represent him in his contract negotiations.

"The director of the players association has among his other responsibilities one to see that agents all act appropriately," Miller said. "There are penalties for those who don't. If you have one of the agents as your own representative, if it doesn't provide actual favoritism, it provides the appearance of it."

Upshaw, told of Miller's comments, said, "That's his opinion."

Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, said the relationship between Upshaw and Condon is not a conflict because both sit on the same side of the table, representing players.

"This organization protects — first, foremost and always — the rights of NFL players," Berthelsen said. "It is not the job of the organization to protect one agent from having a disadvantage in competing with another agent."

IMG SIGNS MIRNYI: IMG has signed Belarussian tennis player Max Mirnyi, ranked No. 34 in the world. Mirnyi, 23, moved to the United States when he was a child, living first in New York before departing for Florida to train for tennis.

His father had handled his career, including his recent deal with Nike. Mirnyi may be a candidate to be signed by IMG Models, said Max Eisenbud, his new IMG agent. IMG Models is the sports marketing giant's fashion unit, which recently signed tennis player and IMG client James Blake to a contract.

Mirnyi reached the finals of the Masters Series Stuttgart in October, his best showing in a big tournament. He is well known on the circuit for his nickname, "The Beast," a reference to his build: 6-foot-5 and about 200 pounds.

RLR SIGNS KENNY, GOLIC: RLR Associates, a New York-based firm that specializes in representing sports broadcasters, has signed ESPN broadcasters Brian Kenny and Mike Golic to representation agreements.

Kenny is one of ESPN's top anchors, having worked on "SportsCenter," ESPN College Football, "Baseball Tonight" and ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights." Golic serves as an analyst for ESPN and ESPN2's NFL studio programming, as well as for the networks' college football game coverage.

At RLR, Kenny will be represented by Maury Gostfrand and Golic by Craig Foster.

Please contact Liz Mullen with labor and agent news at lmullen@amcity.com. Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this column.

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