In an arena full of competition, there is one female agent looking to assist other women in their sports journey. Emily Staker will take the time to talk shop, impart advice, give interviews, all while running a successful agency that bears her name. Her agency provides services to athletes, sports media personalities, contract negotiation, using what she describes as a holistic approach coming from a self-described place of faith, hard work, and integrity. Upon completion of her undergraduate degree at Gonzaga, Emily received her Doctor of Law from University of Denver. There, she ranked third in the nation at the Tulane Professional Football Negotiation Competition, and also published research regarding the role of the agent in the 2021 NFL CBA. She is currently in the process of getting certified with the NFLPA.
Not only is she an agent, but she is also on the Leadership Council for GALvanize, an organization offering bootcamps, workshops, and coaching for women aspiring to, and already work in sports. Through our discussions, it is clear that Emily not only wants to secure the highest value for clients, but also the men and women she works alongside, knowing the destination is better if we get there together. Emily sat down with Sports Agent Blog to discuss her path and how she is paying it forward.
Natalie Muccillo: Can you tell me about your path to becoming an agent?
Emily Staker : When I began law school, I had worked in the sports media space and knew that I wanted to pursue a legal career that intersected with sports in some way. My law school career adviser was intent on dissuading me out of that interest, so I took things into my own hands and started reaching out to agents in the Denver area. When I reached out to 360 Sports, an NFL agency in Colorado Springs, I heard back pretty quickly and got to know both Craig and Teddi, the Agent/CEO and CMO, respectively, and knew that I aligned with their values. I started working with them and had a great experience—they afforded me a great deal of trust and responsibility and I was able to learn a great deal about the various choices an agent makes when it comes to how they want to conduct themselves as a person and as an advocate. The greatest learning experience from my work with them is that what separates the good agents from the great agents comes down to the person themselves, their beliefs, their values, and how they treat others.
After working with 360, I also worked with one of the largest banks in Colorado, and did some transactional work to test the waters, but I knew that being an agent was something that aligned with my goals and values.
Somewhere in my second-year, I met Laura Okmin, a highly regarded veteran sideline reporter who currently works with Fox Sports and Westwood One. She created an organization called GALvanize that works alongside professional teams to increase opportunities for women in the sports industry through player development programs. She afforded me the opportunity to start working in the player development space, predominantly with NFL franchises. Our work was mainly focused on media training and interview preparation, and I was working with several women in sports media to help organize our programs. Many of these women became some of my closest friends, and I was frequently being asked for legal insight or advice in particular situations as it related to their contracts, work environments, and career paths.
I realized how underrepresented women are in the talent agent space, and knew from my prior experience how important it was to have an agent who could genuinely empathize with one’s situation and feelings. Being a woman in sports, in so many ways, prepared me to be an advocate for women in sports. There are certain things that men can empathize with, but never fully understand. This is what sparked me to be an agent— I wanted to leave the industry better than I found it. I wanted to be an advocate for women and for all of my future clients in a manner that accounts for their entire person. I treat the professional aspirations of my clients with the utmost seriousness and respect, but I place their personal goals and needs in equal regard. I want to represent the whole person—not just the professional.
NM: Who was your first client? Can you elaborate on the difficulties of landing that first one? The feeling when you ultimately signed them?
ES: My first big client was actually an influencer. She was referred to me by a dear friend and fellow woman in GALvanize, and she was initially seeking an attorney who specialized in the entertainment space. My friend told her to reach out to me, and we hit it off. She is a Black woman who is making an enormous impact on the mental health space in the Black community, raising awareness around resources and decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health. Her cause is something that I am fully supportive and passionate about and I wanted to help her in any way that I could. I was honored that she asked me to be her agent—there really is no better feeling than when someone places their trust in you to help guide them along their career path. She is now a NAMI ambassador and continues to champion mental health advocacy through her platform of over one-million followers.
NM: We are living in an interesting time. Things are evolving. This week we heard about the General Manager for the Mets, Jared Porter, getting fired over inappropriate behavior via text messages sent to a female sports journalist. I know you have released statements/thoughts on women in sports, but could you elaborate more here? Do you think sexual harassment is something we will get past, or is it an aspect of working in sports, a highly charged environment, that we, as women, will always have to contend with?
ES: It sucks. There really isn’t a more refined way to put it, frankly. We’ve all experienced mistreatment in some shape or form, and the majority of us believed that we had to endure it as some sort of rite of passage into being a woman in sports. The irony, though, is that it isn’t a rite as much as an enduring experience. Some of the most successful women in our industry still experience mistreatment from men. I say this all the time, but I am at a point where I now put the responsibility on men who want to be allies and make this space more welcoming and safe for women. Women are constantly told that this industry is hyper-competitive and that we are lucky to be here. But if it is so competitive, why are abusers and bad men still existing and profiting in this space? If it is such a competitive industry, why do men who do not meet the minimally-decent-human mark continue to excel in their careers? If we are ever going to make this industry more intersectional and truly safe and inclusive for women, men need to be better allies and actually speak out against their peers when they see or hear of abuse or harassment. We also need more women in hiring roles to better screen out men who continue to perpetuate harm. Again, I genuinely want to leave this industry better than I found it in so many regards, but women have been speaking out against perpetrators for years (centuries, really) and nothing has changed, so in my opinion, we need men to be more invested in that change for it to really come to fruition.
NM: What advice do you have for women who are aspiring to be agents? Do you have to be an attorney to be an agent?
ES: So much of your currency as an agent is your network. Regardless of whether you want to represent athletes, broadcasters, or coaches, you need to have a network to properly recruit and assist your clients. Building that network is the foundation of being an agent. The other advice that I would give, that I wish I knew earlier, is that the conventional understanding of what we are told agents act like—the aggressive, more male advocate— is only one way. There are so many different personalities and styles when it comes to advocacy and negotiation. I used to think that being soft spoken was a huge disadvantage because I wasn’t engaging with men who respected me. The reality is that it had nothing to do with me, and frankly, my ability to disarm others in a conversation is really what I take pride in. I don’t ever want to enter a negotiation or a conversation and make the other party feel defensive. That isn’t who I am as a person. I genuinely believe that any agreement can be created in a manner that is beneficial to all parties—if we are negotiating, it is because we both want to be there. So, I suppose my advice would be to be true to yourself and embrace your strengths—clients who align with your values and appreciate your personality will see your talent. Don’t feel like you need to change who you are to be a good agent.
As far as being an attorney goes—it really depends. Many CBA’s require certain qualifications in order to be certified. Generally, they require some form of graduate degree. I would say that being an attorney has given me a skillset that naturally benefitted my work as an agent. It also presents a different ethical framework that I find extremely important. I take the ethical requirements of being an attorney very seriously. I think in that regard, being an attorney is a major advantage because clients can be comforted in knowing that we operate under a high standard of ethics. It is certainly possible to be an ethical person without becoming an attorney, but when you swear an oath to comport to certain notions of truthfulness and integrity, there is a different level of trust that you are able to offer to clients. I also think that formal legal training is extremely important when it comes to contracts. I have read some awful contracts, and I am so grateful to have taken full advantage of every drafting course and clinic in law school that assisted me in becoming a clear and cogent legal writer.
With all of that being said, law school is not a small undertaking. In three years of law school, I can count on one hand how many days I took off from any work. When I graduated, I literally slept for days. Depending on your school, it can be extremely competitive and even toxic. There is just as much misogyny and mistreatment in the legal profession as there is in sports. Don’t go to law school because you don’t know what else to do—you will regret it. Being an attorney is the greatest privilege of my life. I come from a family where women prior to me were not afforded opportunities to pursue higher education, and that education is something that can never be taken away. Ultimately, if your heart is really in it, all of the difficulties are manageable.
NM: Tell me about Galvanize. How did you find this group of women?
ES: GALvanize is a network of over two-thousand women whose focus is to make the sports industry more evenly represented and intersectional. I was welcomed into GALvanize by the founder, Laura, and I immediately fell in love with everything it represented. I had never before had so many women who really understood my experiences and were as genuinely interested in Phil Rivers’ EPA as I was. For so many reasons, women need to lean on each other to endure in this industry. GALvanize is all that and more—it is a support system, a platform, and a champion for women. I now serve on the Leadership Council with two other phenomenal women, and I am so excited for the future of the organization and the change that we will continue to effect.
Follow Emily Staker on social media: Twitter: @emilystaker and Instagram: @emily_staker.