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SBJ/October 13 - 19, 2003/Labor Agents
NFLPA asked to review agent’s conduct
Published October 13, 2003
Rosenhaus (right) reacts as client Willis McGahee (left) was picked by the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the draft in April. Rosenhaus now represents Antonio Brown as well.
NFL player agent Mark Lepselter has filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association, asking for an investigation into the circumstances surrounding Buffalo Bills player Antonio Brown firing Lepselter and hiring agent Drew Rosenhaus.
Brown, a rookie kick returner for the Bills, faxed Lepselter a termination notice from the South Florida hotel where the Bills were staying on Sept. 20, the day before they played the Miami Dolphins. Lepselter said a Bills official, whose name he would not reveal, saw Brown talking with Rosenhaus in the hotel lobby that same day.
Brown never called Lepselter to say he was unhappy, the agent said, adding that he spoke with Brown five days before the fax was sent about going to Buffalo to meet him in person. And although Brown fired Lepselter, he left tickets to the Miami-Buffalo game for Lepselter's Florida employees to attend the game, said Lepselter, whose company is based in Totowa, N.J.
Lepselter said, too, that it was curious that Brown pre-dated the letter Sept. 15 and faxed it on Sept. 20. Under NFLPA rules, players may not sign with another agent until five days after they have fired their original agent. Brown also copied the letter to Athelia Doggette, the NFLPA assistant director of agent administration.
"I find it extremely strange, with due respect to Athelia Doggette, but how the hell would Antonio Brown even know who Athelia Doggette is?" Lepselter said. "The kid just got into the league three months ago."
Doggette wouldn't comment for this story.
Rosenhaus said he has done nothing wrong and had nothing to do with the faxing of the termination letter or the firing of Lepselter. "Antonio Brown approached me and said he did not have an agent," Rosenhaus said when first contacted by SportsBusiness Journal. "I don't have any idea why he would let [Lepselter] go."
Rosenhaus later said he talked to Brown about why he fired Lepselter, and the player told him that Lepselter never met him in person and only called him about once a month.
"I don't want it to seem like I broke up a happy marriage," Rosenhaus said.
Brown also told Rosenhaus that Lepselter did not even negotiate his deal with the Bills.
Lepselter said he did negotiate the deal, adding that he negotiated incentives and a $3,500 signing bonus into Brown's two-year contract, which pays him $130,000 this season and $305,000 next season. Lepselter said although he had not met Brown in person when he was fired, he called him at least once a week. In fact, Lepselter said, he left Brown a message on his cell phone the Saturday night he was fired, wishing him good luck in his game against the Dolphins. "I had no idea there was a fax sitting there waiting for me," Lepselter said.
NFLPA regulations prohibit agents from soliciting players under contract to other agents, except in certain limited circumstances, said Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel. But although agents complain regularly that other agents are stealing their clients, cases are difficult to prove, he said.
"As in any case, the evidence of interference lies with what the player has to say about how the question of representation came up with the agent who allegedly interfered," Berthelsen said. "Under our regulations, if a player initiated the discussions, there is no violation. If the agent initiated the discussions concerning representation, it is possible a violation occurred."
Lepselter said that one of the tough things about getting fired by Brown is that no other agent, including Rosenhaus, wanted Brown last spring. Brown, who was undrafted out of West Virginia, played a year in the Canadian Football League before getting a tryout with the Bills, and was what agents call a "street free agent," a class of player with the least chance of making an NFL roster. Brown not only made it but has been a starting kick and punt returner for the team.
Rosenhaus said he has known Brown, a friend of his client Willis McGahee, for years, but could not recall if Brown tried to hire him last spring.
But Ronald Holmes, owner of the Mama Lucy's barbecue rib restaurant in Miami, a hangout for University of Miami football players, said he helped Brown find Lepselter after other agents, including Rosenhaus, didn't want to talk to him.
"He knows what we went through to contact Drew and Drew wouldn't help him," Holmes said. "Now he is going back to the same guy who wouldn't help him. It isn't cool."