Guest contribution from an entity within the sports representation industry.
Several weeks ago Phil Mickelson publicly announced that he planned to take the week off to spend time with family. The reactions (barring those to his additional comments about PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem) were polarized. They were either rants from people with “real jobs” who had sacrificed time with their families, or people applauding his family values—and they were fascinating to read. Several people assumed that Phil received bad advice from his representation and/or PR people about discussing his plans publicly. While I can say with reasonable certainty that this is not the case, I also recognize that public opinion about agents and PR people is irrelevant. In fact, sometimes it’s the job of the agent to take the rap for a decision made by the client.
There are tons of questions I could ask about the role of an agent in advising his client on speaking publicly, or about clients who choose not to listen to their agents and the predicament that puts the agents in, but the question I really want to ask is what role does an agent have in his/her client’s private life? The blurring of business and personal relationships in this industry can make it difficult to navigate. I personally prefer to compartmentalize my life and keep business and personal relationships separate. That said, it’s not always possible, and though I find it intellectually uncomfortable (the memory of terminations past always lurks in the back of my mind) I usually end up enjoying myself in these social interactions. While the technical job description mandates that agents negotiate contracts and solicit opportunities for their clients, a friendlier relationship often develops. Just sitting in the office today I’ve heard two agents call clients about impending births—one client took the call while sitting in the delivery room.
The set of variables, and consequently the relationship, becomes more complex as it applies to female athletes.
- How does the agent deal with the husband of a female client who may feel emasculated by her earning power?
- How does an agent safeguard his client’s future financial interests, especially if she plans to have children?
- What about the biological decisions most women have to make, specifically about when and how to have children?
- What is a young, single, male agent to do if he has relatively little understanding of these circumstances?
For most women who have invested considerable time and energy in their careers, the prospect of becoming a mother can be scary. Statistically, women spend more time caring for their children than their male partners, even if they work outside the home (see “Children’s time with Fathers in Intact Families” by W. Jean Yeung, John F. Sandberg, Pamela E. Davis-Kean, and Sandra Hofferth). Add to that the fact that these women depend on their bodies for their careers, and the uncertainly of prospective motherhood can become terrifying.
Certainly understanding these elements, which are so often not talked about, is critically important if you have a personal relationship with an athlete. In spite of the complexity of the relationships, the overt question boils down to the simplest principle of sports agency: how does one best serve the interests of a client? The answer, I believe, is equally simple. Follow their cues and do as you are asked, and act happy for them no matter what.