SBJ/20090302/This Week's News

Vincent a polarizing figure in battle for NFLPA

Troy Vincent survived 15 NFL seasons, reaching five Pro Bowls, but he may have never seen tougher competition or a harsher spotlight than in his bid to be the NFL Players Association’s next executive director.

Vincent, 37, honed his résumé during his playing years, forging relationships in his four years as NFLPA player president with players and employees at the union, where he was known to attend prayer meetings with other player officers during union events. He won the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his community service and on-the-field achievements in 2003, the same year Sporting News named him its No. 1 “Good Guy” in pro sports.

Along with his supporters, however, Vincent has drawn detractors, who criticize his record as a businessman as well as his role in several recent controversies regarding the union. Some in the union office oppose him, fearing a house cleaning if he takes charge, sources say.

It has left Vincent, long viewed as a potential successor to Gene Upshaw, a polarizing figure in a contentious campaign.

With less than two weeks left until 32 player representatives elect an executive director at their meeting in Maui, the race focuses almost exclusively on whether Vincent has been unfairly smeared, or if some of his past actions reflect a man unsuited for the position.

Troy Vincent (left) has long been seen as a
potential successor to the late Gene Upshaw.

Vincent has competition in Trace Armstrong, himself an eight-year NFLPA player president, and Washington, D.C., attorney DeMaurice Smith, who has no NFL experience but is seen as a potential compromise candidate. NFLPA rules also make it possible for a previously eliminated candidate or a new one to be nominated in the late stages.

But for weeks, the sentiment in the industry is that Vincent has enough committed votes to secure the position, perhaps the most important job in sports labor. One source close to Vincent said he had 12 representatives locked up already and 10 more leaning toward him, despite the controversies raging around him.

Others say the recent disclosure of Vincent’s role in a 2007 data breach, first reported by SI.com, may change that math for the worse. It’s alleged that Vincent, while player president in 2007, gained access to sensitive financial information for the most powerful 41 NFL player agents and forwarded it to his business partner, with whom Vincent co-owns a financial service firm that counts NFL players as clients. The NFLPA announced last week it had hired outside legal counsel to investigate the matter.

Vincent himself has said nothing publicly, letting his allies do the talking. They have responded the same way to recent reports questioning his role in a January congressional inquiry into the search process, his part in an alleged coup against Upshaw 12 months ago, and his business dealings: They categorize each as last-minute baseless attacks by entrenched union interests who fear the needed change that Vincent will bring to the NFLPA.

Recently retired player and former union representative Roman Oben wrote last month in an open letter posted on an ex-players’ Web site that “Vincent has been the subject of public character assassination” because “he challenged a systematic way of doing things that weren’t in the player’s interest, but in the interests of those who were supposed to represent us.”

Those who oppose Vincent say there are facts, not rumors, in his personal business history that indicate he lacks the judgment and business acumen to run the NFLPA, with its $200 million annual budget, and to lead negotiations for a new labor deal, which could be worth $15 billion to $20 billion over five to six years.

Since the 1990s, according to public records and news accounts, Vincent has created, sat on the board or been affiliated with a number of ventures, including an NHRA racing team, an overnight shipping company, a concierge service for athletes, a real estate development company and several financial, insurance and business services firms. Some of those companies have been dissolved, according to public records. As private concerns, their financial records were not public, so it is hard to say exactly why they went out of business.

Many of the firms he co-founded with Mark Mangum, whom he met when they both played college ball at the University of Wisconsin. Vincent went into the NFL before graduating from Wisconsin, but received a bachelor’s degree in 2007 from Thomas Edison State College, a distance-learning institution in his native Trenton, N.J.

Mangum and Vincent, meanwhile, began forming companies together in Texas, where Mangum resides, starting with one called AT&M Dream Corp. in 1994 that was declared inactive in 2002. Other companies they formed and dissolved include AV&M Dream and Eltekon Hedge.

Vincent also formed companies on his own, in Florida, including Stealth Racing in 1998, a National Hot Rod Association racing team that launched the career of Anton Brown, a cousin of Vincent’s, but which dissolved in 2003.

In 2003, the same year the NFL named Vincent its Man of the Year, Ganis Credit Corp., a division of Deutsche Financial Services, sued him for failing to pay back an $832,760.49 loan that the NHRA team borrowed to buy a bus. The lawsuit, filed June 23, 2003, in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, Pa., alleged that Vincent defaulted on the loan beginning on June 26, 2002, and Ganis repossessed the bus and sold it.

After the sale, Vincent still owed $199,680.94, according to the lawsuit. The case was subsequently terminated by Bucks County, and it’s unclear if Vincent paid back the remaining money. Ganis is no longer in business.

Additionally, Vincent launched Stealth Real Estate in 1998 and dissolved that firm in 2000, according to public records.

It is not clear if his New Jersey real estate firm, Troy Vincent Development and Construction, is still in operation. It has disappeared from his recent publicly available bios, and a call to the business’s last listed phone number leads to a message for another company called Friends Landscaping.

Vincent faces a civil
lawsuit involving a spa
that he and his wife own.

Meanwhile, Vincent is encountering some problems in his businesses that are still in operation.

A woman is suing Vincent, his wife, Tommi, and their Trenton spa business, Essence LLC, alleging that she was sexually assaulted by one of the company’s employees. The lawsuit alleges that the employee, who was recently indicted on criminal charges in the case, had a history of assaulting massage customers at other spas but that the Vincents never researched his past.

On Feb. 6, a New Jersey state judge ruled the plaintiff could begin discovery proceedings and depose the Vincents.

Vincent was also a partner in Web site ProAthletesOnly.com with a former NFL agent, Scott Helfand, who is in the Miami-Dade County jail, accused of violating his probation in a case in which he pleaded guilty to stealing $150,000 from former NFL defensive lineman Oliver Gibson.

Vincent’s bio on the Web site of his financial company, Eltekon.com, stated as recently as Jan. 15 that “Vincent is a born leader who owns all or part of several companies including: Eltekon (financial, insurance and business services), and Pro-Athletes Only (informative website providing resources for professional athletes.)” But that statement was taken off the Web site later in January, around the time Helfand was arrested.

Vincent’s name has also been tied to several union controversies dating back to the annual meeting in Maui last March. A coup attempt there failed to unseat Upshaw, said multiple sources, including two agents at rival firms who said their clients, both player representatives, were approached with a proposal to vote Upshaw out and Vincent in as head of the union.

After the meeting, Upshaw cut off his relationship with Vincent, once seen as his hand-picked successor. Before he died Aug. 20, Upshaw told multiple friends that Vincent was behind a coup attempt against him. Vincent supporters, including Oben, were quoted as denying involvement by their candidate.

In December, search firm Reilly Partners, hired by the NFLPA to narrow the number of candidates, removed Vincent from consideration, sources said, based on his qualifications for the job, but he was added back on by NFLPA executive committee members who objected.

In January, four U.S. congressmen sent a letter to the Department of Labor asking for an investigation in the process. U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, who was not one of the letter signers, said two of the signatories told him Vincent had met or had spoken with them before they sent it. But at least two of the signers deny Vincent spurred the letter.

Through it all, Vincent’s supporters have remained steadfast. Said one, “You have to be a player to understand, but when one of your own is attacked, we rally around.”

Though he has said little in his own defense, a rare response last week may shed light on the mind-set of Vincent, a devoutly religious man who took the name for several of his companies, Eltekon, from a passage in the Bible.

After a reporter left a message on his cell phone, asking for comment on questions about release of agents’ financial information, text messages from Vincent’s cell number were returned that quoted Psalms in the Old Testament.

Part of the lengthy cell phone text read, “O’ God, listen to my complaint. Do not let my enemies threats overwhelm me. Protect me from plots of the wicked, from the scheming of those who do evil.”

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