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Volume 21 No. 1

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Vinny Giles, one of the pioneers of the golf agent business, is getting back into it after retiring five years ago.

Giles may be best known as a player, having won both the U.S. Amateur and the British Amateur. He started his golf representation company, Pros Inc., in 1973. He sold it to Octagon in 1999.

“I stayed there for roughly seven years, and in the fall of ’06 I decided I’d had enough, so I guess I technically retired,” Giles said in a phone interview last week.

Things change. Late last month, a “new” company called Pros Inc. announced that it had signed golfer Ernie Els. Pros Inc. is owned by Giles, former Octagon Golf agent Giff Breed and Buddy Marucci, a successful businessman and well-known amateur golfer who was the captain of the U.S. Walker Cup teams in 2007 and 2009.  

Ernie Els is the first client for Vinny Giles’ new version of Pros Inc.
Signing Els as your first client “is a nice start,” Giles said. “We call it the rebirth of Pros Incorporated, but I would say that, at the same time, it’s a new company. We are starting from scratch.”

Pros Inc. will be based in Richmond, Va., with an office in the Palm Beach, Fla., area. Giles said the group is hoping to represent between five and 15 high-quality golfers.

Els was formerly represented by Chubby Chandler; they parted ways last month. Giles said that he and his group did not recruit Els but that Els called them when he heard they were restarting their firm.

In addition to player representation, Pros Inc. hopes to do corporate consulting for groups that want to use golf as a way to entertain clients, Giles said.

Said veteran golf agent Rocky Hambric, “I think Vinny is, historically, one of the better agents; always was. The business of [golf] agents is pretty challenging, but when your first client is Ernie Els, you are 90 percent of the way of overcoming the issues.”
NEW RULES FOR NFL DISCIPLINE: The NFL collective-bargaining agreement now in effect contains some new language regarding how players can be disciplined for on-field conduct that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell deems detrimental to the game. Among the changes compared with the prior CBA is a clause stating that a fine for on-field behavior may be reduced “if it exceeds 25 percent of one week of a player’s salary for a first offense, and 50 percent of one week of a player’s salary for a second offense.”

Additionally, there is new language about fines for on-field hits and other conduct being paid out in installments. “Fines will be deducted at the rate of no more than $2,500 from each pay period, if sufficient pay periods remain; or, if less than sufficient pay periods remain, the fine will be deducted in equal installments over the number of remaining pay periods,” the CBA reads.

If James Harrison faces another league fine, he won’t have to pay it all at once.
Under the old CBA, fines were deducted in one lump sum after the player’s appeal, if any, was heard and decided, said Bill Parise, agent for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who was fined four times last year. The entire amount “was deducted from the next check,” Parise said.

Attempts to reach the NFL and NFL Players Association for comment on the new language were unsuccessful.

The fines imposed on Harrison, including one for $75,000, were controversial and garnered substantial press last year. Not surprisingly, Parise feels the fines imposed on his client were unfair. “Not only was he doing his job, but he was doing his job in absolutely the prescribed manner in which he was taught to do it,” said Parise, who argued the fines and got two of the four reduced.

Parise said he did not know whether the language in the new CBA would affect fines in the future and noted that the NFLPA was scheduled to hold an agent seminar in Chicago last week to discuss some of the changes. But Parise also noted that it may take time to see whether there are any changes in the way players are fined. “We have a brand-new document,” he said.
BDA SIGNS NBA PLAYERS: BDA Sports, the basketball player representation firm headed by agent Bill Duffy, has signed for representation both former Indiana Pacers forward Josh McRoberts, now a would-be free agent, and Denver Nuggets forward Gary Forbes.

BDA agent Mike Conley Sr. will represent McRoberts; BDA agent Kevin Bradbury will represent Forbes. McRoberts was formerly represented by Bob Myers, who left Wasserman Media Group this spring to become an assistant general manager of the Golden State Warriors. Forbes was formerly represented by Octagon.

“We are pleased to add Josh and Gary to the agency,” Duffy said in a statement. “They are both poised to go to the next level in their respective careers.”
SPORTSTRUST SIGNS PLAYERS: SportsTrust Advisors, the NFL player representation firm formed when veteran agents Pat Dye Jr. and Jimmy Sexton merged their practices late last year, has signed Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kenny Britt and Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth for representation. The players will be represented by Dye and fellow agent Bill Johnson. Britt was formerly represented by Todd France. Whitworth was formerly represented by Stephen Colson.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @SBJLizMullen.

If a group of players were to file a petition to decertify the National Basketball Players Association, the union might challenge the action before the National Labor Relations Board, an attorney representing the NBPA in its unfair labor practices charge against the NBA said last week.

“The only reason a decertification petition would be filed is because the conduct of the NBA in bargaining with the union has so undermined the union that some members have lost faith in the union’s ability to reach a fair contract,” said Larry Katz, the attorney who has been representing the NBPA. The NBA has said the allegations in the charge, filed in May, are without merit.

A group of powerful NBA agents, representing 30 percent of the NBA players as a whole, is said to be considering filing a petition with the NLRB to decertify the NBPA as a union. The agents have been secretive about their plans, but no decertification petition had been filed with the NLRB as of last Thursday. In addition, the league and NBPA were to have continued negotiations over the weekend in pursuit of a new collective-bargaining agreement that would end the three-month lockout.

Under labor laws, the NLRB could hold a vote to decertify the NBPA as a union if 30 percent of NBA players signed a petition to do so. The NBPA then would be dissolved as a union if 50 percent plus one player voted in favor of it.

But Katz said that if the players did file a petition to hold a vote for an election to end the NBPA’s union status, the union could challenge it. “If a decertification petition were filed, the union could file a new charge, a blocking charge, alleging that the unfair labor practices of the NBA resulted in the decertification and that it should be blocked until the unfair labor practices charge is resolved,” Katz said.

Katz said whether the NBPA would challenge such a petition would depend on the circumstances, including how many NBA players signed it.

In addition to denying the allegations in the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge, the NBA has filed an unfair labor practices charge of its own against the union, alleging that it was planning to decertify as a tactic to avoid bargaining. It is not clear what affect the league’s charge would have on any decertification petition filed by NBA players. The NBA declined to comment for this story.

NBPA Executive Director Billy Hunter has stated publicly that the union leadership does not plan on a path of decertification, which was the course of action taken by the NFL Players Association during the NFL lockout earlier this year. In fact, multiple player-side sources said that Hunter has had discussions and disagreed with agents who favor disbanding the union as a way to protect players’ interests.

Agents and players are said to be split on whether to decertify, and it was not clear last week whether the agents who favor the move have enough support to get it passed.

Bill Gould, a Stanford Law School professor and former chairman of the NLRB, said that if the NBA players file a petition to decertify, the NLRB could halt the processing of the NBPA’s unfair practices claim while it holds an election to determine whether the NBPA represents a majority of NBA players.

The NBPA has alleged that the NBA has failed to bargain in good faith, and in alleging that, the union has purported to represent a majority of NBA players, Gould said. Whether the board decides to halt the election while it makes a decision on the unfair labor practices charge or halt the investigation of the charge while it holds an election is a decision the NLRB would have to make, he said.

Elbert Tellem, the acting regional director of the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board, has recused himself from involvement in the board’s investigation of the unfair labor practices charge brought against the NBA by the National Basketball Players Association because he is the cousin of NBA agent Arn Tellem.

“He has recused himself because he has a relative involved in the industry,” said Nancy Cleeland, NLRB director of public affairs. She said Tellem recused himself in the last few weeks.

Tellem’s action came after it became known that Arn Tellem was part of the group of agents that is considering a strategy different from what the NBPA is pursuing — namely, a path of decertifying the union. Tellem recused himself, a source said, to avoid the potential, or the appearance of, a conflict of interest. He had been involved in processing the NBPA’s unfair labor practices charge against the NBA, but another attorney in the NLRB’s New York office, Karen Fernbach, is now handling it, said this source, who asked for anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Elbert Tellem and Fernbach did not return phone calls. Arn Tellem declined comment.

The NBPA has been pursuing the NLRB claim in hopes that the board will seek an injunction in federal court to halt the NBA lockout. The NBA has said the NBPA’s charge is without merit and has filed an unfair labor practices charge of its own against the union.

The agents who are considering decertification are doing so because they believe it is unlikely the NLRB will seek an injunction to stop the lockout, among other reasons, player-side sources said.

— Liz Mullen