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Volume 20 No. 41

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
Several high-profile NFL prospects, including BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a projected first-round pick, have fired their agents in recent weeks.

Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter and San Jose State players Ryan Otten, a tight end, and David Quessenberry, an offensive tackle, also terminated their contracts with agents in January.

Ezekiel Ansah was “the hot thing at the Senior Bowl” after dismissing his agent.
Ansah was projected as the No. 15 overall pick by last week. He was formerly represented by Jerome Stanley. Hunter was co-represented by J.T. Johnson and Tae Darnell of Atlas Sports Agency and Fletcher Smith at Blueprint Management Group. Otten and Quessenberry were represented by Steve Caric of Caric Sports Management. Hunter was projected as a second- or third-round pick, Quessenberry as a third- to fourth-round pick, and Otten as a sixth- to seventh-round pick by last week.

The fact that Ansah was agent-less caused a stir at the recent Senior Bowl, agents said. “[He] was the hot thing at the Senior Bowl,” one agent said. “The agents found out that he fired Jerome, and they were just swarming him.”
Agents asked for anonymity because draft prospects are not able to sign with another agent until 30 days after the day they signed with their original agent.

Ansah terminated Stanley on Jan. 14, but it is not clear when he signed with him. Stanley declined comment.

One of Hunter’s former agents, Darnell, said he is looking into whether another agent interfered in his relationship with Hunter, which would be a violation of NFLPA rules.

“At this point, there may be some tampering involved,” Darnell said. “It’s more than likely we will take action.”
Agents can bring grievances against other agents under union rules.

“We have nothing bad to say about Justin,” Darnell added. “He’s a great kid. Just, sometimes, people get in their ears.”

Caric, meanwhile, said both Quessenberry and Otten decided to seek other representation after he signed Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, who was projected as the No. 19 overall pick by last week.

Caric said that Otten did not want to be represented by an agent who represented another tight end and that Quessenberry wanted to have the same agent as Otten.

> SPORTSTARS SIGN DRAFT PROSPECTS: Sportstars signed University of Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who was projected as the No. 28 overall pick by last week.

Sportstars also signed Virginia offensive tackle Oday Aboushi, Southeastern Louisiana cornerback Robert Alford, Kansas State wide receiver Chris Harper, Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King, San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar, UConn cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Michigan State tight end Dion Sims.

Sportstars agents Brian Mackler, Jon Perzley, Alan Herman, Jared Fox and Jason Chayut will represent the players.

> SPORTSTRUST SIGNS ALABAMA PLAYERS: SportsTrust Advisors signed running back Eddie Lacy from the national champion University of Alabama football team.

SportsTrust also signed Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson and safety Robert Lester for representation. SportsTrust President Pat Dye Jr. will serve as the lead agent for the players.

> IF SIGNS PLAYERS FOR BROADCAST WORK: IF Management has signed former MLB catcher Gregg Zaun and former NBA center Jarron Collins for representation in broadcast work.

Gideon Cohen, vice president of New York-based IF, will represent both Collins and Zaun.

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

Octagon has formed an alliance with horse racing marketing firm Equisponse to represent record-breaking female jockey Rosie Napravnik for corporate endorsements and all other commercial endeavors.

It is thought to be the first time a major agency has represented a horse racing talent since the entertainment agency formerly known as William Morris represented legendary thoroughbred Secretariat in the 1970s.

Napravnik won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile aboard Shanghai Bobby in November.
Octagon managing director Peter Carlisle, best known as agent to Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, will represent Napravnik with Kelly Wietsma, president of Equisponse, as part of the agreement. Neither Carlisle nor Wietsma would disclose the financial arrangements of the alliance.

Napravnik, 24, has broken numerous records for female jockeys. Last year, she became the first woman to win the Kentucky Oaks, a prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies. Napravnik finished eighth in the North American jockey rankings in 2012, the best ranking ever for a female jockey, after winning 193 races and $12.5 million in purse earnings.

She has won the last two meets at her home track, Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Napravnik also won the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race aboard Shanghai Bobby, one of the favorites for this year’s Kentucky Derby.

A female jockey has never won the Derby, the first leg of racing’s prestigious Triple Crown.

“She would make history, and it provides this potential opportunity to tell a story about the sport that goes way beyond horse racing,” Carlisle said.

Napravnik has been featured in horse racing coverage on NBC, which holds the rights to broadcast the Triple Crown races, and the CBS news program “60 Minutes” is producing a feature on her. She does not have any major endorsement deals.

Carlisle said that although Napravnik is not well-known to the general public, he sees a chance to build an athlete’s brand, especially during the Triple Crown season. “The best analogy is we are going into the Olympics,” he said. “Rosie is a unique story, and it has unique potential.”

Editor’s note: This story is updated from the print edition.

Even before the National Basketball Players Association placed Executive Director Billy Hunter on an indefinite leave of absence last week, industry insiders had begun coming up with a list of potential successors.

Former Madison Square Garden Sports CEO Steve Mills and two attorneys who have run for the top job at sports unions before, David Cornwell and Len Elmore, are among the names of potential replacements, if Hunter leaves the position of executive director. Other names that have been mentioned include former NBPA player presidents Isiah Thomas and Antonio Davis, as well as the sitting president, Derek Fisher.

Agents, players and the media have called for Hunter to step down or be fired after a union-commissioned report found that he acted in his own interests and against those of the union, where he has held the top job since 1996.

The NBPA’s Billy Hunter has held the executive director position since 1996.
“We believe that the Board of Player Representatives and the Executive Committee should decide, going forward, whether or not Mr. Hunter should continue to occupy the position of Executive Director, and they should focus on that decision” at meetings set for this month’s All-Star Weekend, said the report, issued by law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Hunter has said publicly that he intends to stay on, though that was before the union announced Friday that he had been put on indefinite leave. Ron Klempner, the NBPA's deputy general counsel, was named acting executive director.

The report also found that Hunter’s current employment contract was never properly approved by the board of player representatives, as is required by the union’s bylaws. Paul, Weiss recommended that the players decide to either properly approve Hunter’s contract or decline to ratify his contract retroactively and search for a new executive director.

Names that have emerged as potential successors to Hunter are people who may “throw their hat into the ring” or be tapped by players because of their experience, accomplishments and relationships in sports in general and in the NBA in particular, some basketball agents, players and labor sources say.

But other sources, including one prominent NBA agent, say that a search firm will be hired, and that the next executive director may be someone “you have never heard of,” a sports outsider, who may not have a lot of friends in basketball, but will win because he doesn’t have any enemies, either. In 2009, NFL players elected DeMaurice Smith, who at that time had no sports experience, to run their union.

“Anybody and everybody is going to want this job,” said one basketball source, noting the salary — Hunter makes $3 million a year — and the high profile that go with the position. Many sources interviewed asked for anonymity, saying they didn’t want to speak publicly about who might fill a position that is still occupied.

Public speculation about the next NBPA executive director began the day the report was released last month, with reporting that powerful agents seeking a replacement for Hunter had contacted Mills, who is also a former NBA employee. Mills, CEO of Athletes & Entertainers Wealth Management, declined comment.

Thomas, now an analyst for NBA TV, declined to comment. Attempts to reach Fisher for comment were unsuccessful.

Cornwell, who is executive director of the NFL Coaches Association and who ran for NFL Players Association executive director in 2009, said, “I think it is a bad practice and inappropriate to talk about potential candidates when Billy is still in the position of executive director.”

Elmore, a basketball analyst for CBS Sports who ran against Hunter for the position in the mid-1990s, said he might consider it if “there was a desire for me to throw my hat in the ring and if I had a fair hearing.” But he added that he did

not think that would happen for many reasons, including that he is a member of the NCAA’s Knight Commission and that he has said he thinks that basketball players should stay in college for three years. That view is not popular with prominent NBA agents who may be powerful in influencing players who would vote on a new executive director, Elmore said.

There has been speculation that the seven so-called power agents in the NBA — Arn Tellem, Bill Duffy, Mark Bartelstein, Jeff Schwartz, Dan Fegan, Leon Rose and Henry Thomas — who held meetings about decertifying the union

during the NBA lockout in 2011, may reconvene to find a successor to Hunter. Last week, in an email to player clients, Tellem, the vice chairman of Wasserman Media Group, called on his players to fire Hunter. But Tellem and the six other agents had not formally discussed the NPBA as of early last week, agents said.

Agents and other sources said they were not sure whether Fisher, who was at odds with Hunter, would run for the position.

Davis, an ESPN NBA analyst whom Fisher succeeded as player president, said that some players have approached him about considering the job if it were to become available. “I wouldn’t definitely say, ‘No,’” he said. “I would have some interest under the right circumstances.”

But Davis said that if Hunter were replaced, it might be by someone new to basketball. “Our players today are a little bit more sophisticated and they are really going to want a fresh, bright mind to grow this union,” he said. “I don’t think they are going to just take someone who played basketball.”