SBJ/March 17 - 23, 2003/Labor Agents

After months of investigating agents, Couloute leaves NFLPA to become one

Matt Couloute, who was hired by the NFL Players Association last year to help investigate and prosecute agents accused of violating the union's regulations, has left to form his own sports agency, Couloute Management Inc.

"It saddens me to leave the [players association], but at the same time there was a tremendous opportunity that I think I should take advantage of at this point in my life," Couloute said. "I had the opportunity to work with George Mack, a pioneer in the race car industry and the second African-American to compete in the Indianapolis 500. I expect he will eventually become a star in the open-wheel circuit."

Mack, a rookie in the Indy Racing League last year, finished 15th of 51 drivers in earnings, with $758,765. He was 16th in the IRL points standings.

"Right now I have been focusing on George Mack and making sure he receives sponsorship and is in a car in time for the Indianapolis 500," Couloute said. "As of now, he is looking for sponsors."

Mack is temporarily sidelined until he finds sponsorship. Couloute is acting as his agent and business adviser.

Couloute said he plans to open offices in Tampa and in Westport, Conn., for his company, which also will be known as CMI. Couloute, an attorney, hopes to represent other drivers in the future, as well as football and basketball players, he said.

Before joining the NFLPA, Couloute worked for the NFL as a player liaison in the security department. As part of that job, Couloute "gave presentations to teams and players on how to avoid off-the-field conduct issues, as well as [presentations on] league policies."

Couloute worked at the NFLPA while the union was investigating and issuing disciplinary action against agents David Dunn, Joby Branion, Sean Jones and Steve Weinberg.

Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, would not say whether Couloute would be replaced.

FIST FORMS BOXERS GUILD: The Fighters' Initiative for Support and Training has affiliated with the Office and Professional Employees International Union to form a Boxers Guild, meant to improve working conditions for active fighters as well as to provide benefits for retired fighters.

FIST was formed in 1998 by former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney to assist retired boxers. FIST has worked to help more than 200 fighters with issues such as job retraining, health insurance and financial problems, said FIST and Boxers Guild President Joe Sano.

The organization, which previously concentrated its efforts on retired boxers, will now seek out active fighters as well, he said. The two main priorities of FIST are to help educate boxers about training for a second career and to make sure promoters, managers or others are not taking advantage of them, Sano said.

As part of the affiliation with the OPEIU, active boxer members may have their contracts reviewed by the OPEIU's lawyers. "If they believe there is a need for legal action or arbitration, we will provide [legal assistance] at a special rate," Sano said.

IMG SIGNS NHL PROSPECT: Sports agency IMG has signed Slovakian defenseman and highly regarded prospect Richard Stehlik for representation in the 2003 NHL draft.

"Richard is a very good skater for his size and has a good vision of the game," said Pat Brisson, co-director of IMG Hockey. "It's not often that you find a 6-foot-4, 240-pound defenseman who moves as gracefully as he does."

IMG Hockey agent Richard Paquett and Brisson will oversee Stehlik's representation.

BDA ADDS NBA PROSPECT: BDA Sports Management has signed Zarko Cabarkapa, a 6-foot-11 Yugoslavian forward, for representation in this year's NBA draft.

"It is my opinion that he is one of the top young players in Europe, and we are excited about him coming out for workouts with all of the clubs," said Bill Duffy, Cabarkapa's agent and CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based BDA Sports.

GULBIS WEB SITE LAUNCHED:

Golfer Natalie Gulbis is taking her shot on the Web.
Chris Murray, agent for Natalie Gulbis, is talking to companies about sponsoring the LPGA player's new Web site, nataliegulbis.com, which was launched last week.

Murray, president of Imani Sports, a Minneapolis-based firm that represents golfers, NBA players and NFL players, said he hopes to find 10 sponsors for the Web site. It was launched to give Gulbis a way to communicate with her growing fan base as well as provide her an additional source of income, Murray said.

Murray said that last summer there were more Internet searches for Gulbis' name than for any other LPGA Tour player, even though she was a rookie.

Murray will talk to Gulbis' sponsors, which include Adidas, Maxfli, TaylorMade, MetRx and Genisoy, about having a presence on the Web site, he said.

Please contact Liz Mullen at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com with news, anecdotes and tips on labor and agents.

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