SBJ/20090223/This Week's News

Business ties of NFLPA candidates questioned

Even as the NFL Players Association has narrowed to three the final group of candidates for its vacant executive director position, questions about potential conflicts of interest are swirling around the two presumed front-runners, former player presidents Trace Armstrong and Troy Vincent.

The campaign has officially begun, and some sources say at least one candidate has plans to meet individually with team player representatives. The 32 player reps will choose the next executive director next month.

The NFLPA executive committee announced this month that Vincent, Armstrong and Washington, D.C., attorney DeMaurice Smith will compete for the job left open by Gene Upshaw, who died in August.

Smith is an industry outsider, which some consider a major handicap to his candidacy but others say could actually help him in what has become an increasingly contentious race.

As reported by Yahoo! Sports, some agents are criticizing Armstrong’s ties to powerful NFL agent Tom Condon. Armstrong was a client of Condon’s during his playing days, and now works with Condon at CAA Sports, as an agent representing coaches, including those in the NFL.

Armstrong

There is talk that some agents who don’t like Condon’s relationship with Armstrong or Vincent’s relationship with his last player agent, Drew Rosenhaus, favor Smith or a potential fourth candidate. Under the constitution, it takes only three player reps to nominate an additional candidate.

Meanwhile, sports financial advisers, as well as some agents, are questioning whether Vincent has a conflict because he is co-founder, managing director and part-owner of a financial, insurance and business service firm called Eltekon, which counts NFL players as clients.

Vincent is not a registered financial adviser, but he has partnered with Mark Mangum (see story) in several current or former financial services companies, including Eltekon Management Group, Eltekon Insurance Agency, Eltekon Advisors, Eltekon Business Services, Eltekon Securities, Eltekon Financial and Eltekon Hedge.

Most of the Eltekon businesses are private entities, but Eltekon Securities is regulated by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. According to a FINRA report, Vincent directs the policies and management of Eltekon Securities, and owns 25 percent to 50 percent of the company through Eltekon Holdings.

 Femi Shote, a financial planner who is president of the Sports Financial Advisors Association, said, “If Eltekon Financial is and will continue to do business with athletes and Troy is selected to the director position, I think Troy will recognize that it is paramount to sell his stake in Eltekon. Otherwise that will be a conflict of interest.”

Vincent is a partner in
several financial ser-
vices companies.

Neither Vincent nor Mangum returned telephone calls or e-mails last week.

Armstrong was hired by Creative Artists Agency’s sports division in the summer of 2007 to launch its coaches division. He represents college football and NFL coaches, including Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

Attempts to reach Armstrong for comment were unsuccessful, and CAA would not comment. But sources said that Armstrong does not own an equity stake in CAA and would leave his job and no longer represent coaches if he gets the NFLPA executive director position. Also, Condon would not represent Armstrong if he got the job, these sources said.

Condon represented Upshaw while he was executive director, which many rival agents considered a conflict of interest.

Bill Gould, Stanford Law School professor and former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board, said Armstrong would probably not be legally able to represent coaches, even if he wanted to, under U.S. labor law.  If Armstrong gave up his coaches practice, Gould said, “I don’t see any basis for conflict.”

Gould added that he did not think there was any inherent conflict in Vincent owning a financial firm. But in both cases, player reps should be aware of each candidate’s past or present business interests, he said.

Industry sources said Armstrong’s ties to Condon, as well as Vincent’s ties to Rosenhaus, are being used in campaigns targeting not just player reps but also retired players and agents who represent player reps.

 Former NFL player Roman Oben wrote a letter, posted on a retired NFL players Web site last week, arguing the case for Vincent. A prominent agent said he was approached by a Vincent supporter who told him rival agent Rosenhaus would not get any special benefits if Vincent were elected.

NFL agent Peter Schaffer, who represents dozens of NFL players, said potential conflicts are something that should be examined in the race for the job. “If one of the candidates has even the appearance of a conflict of interest, it is incumbent on the electors to completely and thoroughly investigate it and determine if that conflict of interest would adversely affect that person’s ability to hold the title.”

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