Minister and prison guard by day, Albert Thomas, 48 years old, is a sports agent by night. Oh, and he’s a full-time father of five, and husband to boot. Comic book hero? Nope. Just one man who didn’t like what he saw was happening, and decided to take action. While watching his cousin’s grandson, Kwynn Walton, wind up his career as a linebacker years ago for Division I-AA champion James Madison, Thomas grew disenchanted by the “traditional pro scouting process.” Although Walton was a third-team All-American who held the school record for sacks in an individual game, Thomas was frustrated that James Madison didn’t even try to market him, so to speak, to NFL scouts and personnel. “[The school] didn’t even have a pro day,” Thomas lamented. “[And] his agent did nothing. I got into [sports management] for Kwynn because no one else wanted to take up for him.”
Thomas hit the internet to try and learn all that he could about becoming a sports agent. He quickly discovered the Portland, OR-based Sports Marketing Worldwide (SMWW), founded by Lynn Lashbrook, formerly of Sports Management Group (SMG), and whose clients include Brian Dawkins, Pro Bowl safety for the Philadelphia Eagles, and Mark Fields, former first-round pick by the New Orleans Saints. Lashbrook’s SMWW offered online classes for $1,450, and since Thomas wouldn’t have to quit his full-time job while taking the required eight weeks of courses (additionally, Lashbrook requires SMWW’s agents, who are deemed by the firm to be independent contractors, to keep their regular jobs), he decided to become a licensed sports agent.
Thomas is now a full-fledged “agent adviser” for SMWW, and currently has one client in the NFL, second-year Eagles linebacker Akeem Jordan. But he has helped numerous other players negotiate contracts with CFL and Arena League teams, including Walton. That said, he’s only been paid commission on Jordan’s contract. By choice. “I don’t feel right about taking money from guys unless they get to the NFL,” Thomas explained. “That’s what they came to me for, and unless they get there they’re not making enough money to afford to pay someone like me.”
Thomas draws a parallel between working with athletes, and listening to and instructing his congregation. He says that he uses the “same patient, personal approach,” in each case, and moreover that “rather than treating phone conversations [with athletes] as transactions,” he asks “about his clients’ personal lives, gets to know their families and learns to sense their moods.”
“It was pretty obvious right away that he wasn’t like a lot of other agents I’ve heard about,” said Jordan, who signed with the Eagles as a rookie free agent last year after recording six career interceptions at James Madison. “Some of my close friends have agents who call and talk to them about business, just business. Albert calls and wants to know what I’m doing, how my workout went that morning. We have a very good relationship.”
This month, Thomas is paying particular attention to various NFL team training camps, monitoring which teams have needs that arise due to injury or other roster movement. He has a list of unsigned clients waiting for their break in the NFL. It’s the notion of advising precisely this type of client, actually, rather than the highly recruited and anticipated stud, that Thomas relishes. Because it’s that athlete, that kid, who needs the most attention, and the most encouragement. Just like any good parent would support their child when times are tough, Thomas wants to be there for his clients. “If you want me to represent your child, I’m going to treat him the way I would want my child to be treated. I understand that part of it.”