Saturday, February 20, 2010

Anything Worth Doing

Everyone has an idea of what it is that I do. People have a perception of what all agents do. Some people think we're evil monsters ruining the purity of Americas Past Time while others don’t know we exist at all. Just about everything valuable that I have learned in this business has come from good old fashioned experience. There are certain things that I have learned by studying what people in the game have taught me directly while there are other things, valuable things, that I have been forced to learn on the fly. This is one example in crisis management. Unless you have advised someone in a major crisis you would have no idea what the hell you're be talking about. This is not something you learn in school it's just something born from experience.
       During the 2009 baseball season I had a client suspended for failing to comply with the minor league drug testing program. This was not the first time this player was suspended for this offense and from my perspective this could potentially be an atomic bomb to this young mans career. Fans never get to see the human impact on things like this. Fans tend to only think about the impact events like this will have on their favorite team. There are lives and families at stake when something like this happens and as an agent it is my responsibility first and foremost to make sure that the family and the player are stabilized and calm no matter how bad the situation may seem. Think Phil Ivey pushing all in with 7/2 off suit at the final table at Binions. It's that serious because a young mans career and sanity is at stake and along with that to some degree so is mine.
       To that point, one of the things I see happen behind the scenes all the time is that some agents think they are some kind of autonomous body that can exist without the players. Wrong. Without the players an agent is just a guy. Just a man like every other man. I never forget that fact. I literally am nobody without my clients. I have no career, I have no job, I have nothing professionally without my clients. My career completely co-dependent on the choices these men make every single day and I am completely subject to the whims of frailty.
       When I got news of my players suspension I was at a Movie theater in Cary, North Carolina. I was in Cary because I was scouting a player on the Canadian Junior National team who had just recently been drafted by the Dodgers that June. It was around 7 pm when I got the call. Up until that point I wasnt having all that bad of a day. I got to watch several games at the USA Baseball facility, I had dinner with an old friend from high school and I finally made my way to the local movie theater just so I could get some alone time. Much to my ultimate chagrin the only movie starting at the time I got to the theater was Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen. Now I consider myself to be a movie aficionado and I knew instantly I would lose all my movie cool the second I purchased a  ticket to see a Michael Bay film but at that point I didn’t care because at worst I would get to watch Megan Fox "act" for a couple of hours and at best I would potentially have some awesome childhood memories come flooding back to me during the course of the film. Sadly, the only flashback I had during the film came about halfway through viewing when I recalled the epic 1986 cartoon Transformers: The Movie. It was a children’s cartoon and yet at the end of that movie Optimus Prime surrounded by his closest friends and family just dies.
       Think about that for a moment. Someone had to write that entire scene, dialogue and all, then pitch the scene to whomever it needed to be pitched to, a director, the art department, the producer whoever. Then everyone involved with the movie had to sign off on the idea that killing an animated children’s hero would be a great idea. Then finally after all that the animators had to draw those scenes in order to give them to the voice over department so actors could voice a death sequence that could potentially traumatize millions upon millions of children. Who thinks of these things? I cant believe this was Orson Welles last film. (Really, look that up.)
       During that daydream I got the phone call. When you're an agent your clients have to come above all else. I feel not only an obligation to my players to be available 24 hours a day but I consider it a privilege. I feel if my clients believe in me enough to trust them with their careers then I owe it to them to give them every bit of my soul. I will always answer my phone at 3 am. The call came and the player was obviously very upset. I have known this player since he was 15 years old. This player comes from a special family with absolutely incredible parents. This is a good kid. Everyone says that about the players they represent but I know in my heart for a fact this is a good kid. This is the kind of kid who loves people and loves his career. This player always signs autographs before and after games until everyone who wants one has one and always says sir or mam when addressing adults. This is a kid who unfortunately has a very serious disease.
        I have much experience in dealing with the troubles of addiction because I grew up with it as a child. I had a family member very close to me go through the pain and suffering of addiction. Addiction is not a choice. Addiction is very much a disease and fortunatly for this player he had an agent who was quite sympathetic to his situation. Anger and disappointment I would imagine is the first reaction most people would have in a situation like this however I felt nothing but compassion for this player. I knew I would be able to help him get his career and his life totally rehabilitated if he let me. So the first phone call came from him. The second phone call came from his mother. We talked, I listened and I promised her I would do everything in my powers to help this situation. I simply told her, trust me and let me do my job. Then I got to work
       The first two phone calls I made after talking to the player and his family were to the two local beat writers for the team that this player played for. I broke the news to them immediately because I do not believe in hiding. I believe genuine and absolute contrition is the only path to salvation. I gave my quotes to both writers and I promised both of them that the player would be made available uncoached and totally unplugged when he was ready to speak. The first step in repairing a damaged image is to apologize but only if its sincere. The second step in this process was finding a place for this player to get help for his problem. With the help of his parent club arrangements were made for this player to get the help he needed. In addition to that, I had this player contact my family member who was them self a recovering addict in hopes that somehow that would help this player get through his struggles. During the entire off season this player got a regular job working at various places such as a landscaping business and a restaurant. I think in addition to his therapy, working a "normal" job helped put in perspective how lucky this player was to be playing sports as a career. After this players rehabilitation was finished, one final major interview was granted before the start of spring training that hopefully answered any lingering questions about the suspension and the problems this player had with addiction. The goal of this interview was to curtail any questions any reporters would have during the season because this absolutely cannot be a distraction during the year. And that’s the game plan when something goes awry. 1.Get everyone calm. 2.Contact the media and apologize 3. Get help. 4. Apologize more. 5. Live up to all the promises you have made. It doesn’t take dangerous gypsy magic to rehabilitate an image, just genuine contrition and the desire to right your life. So as of now all is well in the universe and the player is looking ahead to 2010 with hope for the first time in a very long time.
       I wanted to write about crisis management today because I was disappointed in what I saw from Tiger Woods today. I don’t think anybody with a pulse could have been surprised at the hilariously scripted and staged atmosphere at today’s press conference. However this is the kind of ignorance we've come to expect from the cauldron of audacity that is celebrity these days. It was arrogance at its purest. I honestly felt like I was watching the last scene in The Departed, where Matt Damon comes home holding his bag of groceries and is greeted by Mark Wahlberg wearing nothing but scrubs and Wonder-Bread bags on his feet. Tiger had the exact same look on his face the entire press conference that Matt Damon had right before the end and you could sense the entire time that Tiger was just waiting to say "Okay..." then credits roll. You almost half expected a CGI mouse to come to the podium and start gnawing on a piece of cheese.
       My client is not Tiger Woods but I do feel like he had an obligation to be honest with everyone included the public about his transgressions. When you make the decision to work in show business (because that’s what sports are) you are subject to different things that most people will never experience. Fame, Money, and in cases of indiscretion, total public embarrassment. It comes with the territory and the territory isn’t cheap. I know my client is on the right path and I will stand by his side until he tells me not to because after all I am always going to be subject to the whims of frailty.

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