NFL agent Nicole Lynn woke up the morning after the first round of the NFL draft Thursday night with a thought: There seemed to be a lot of players represented by black agents. She started making a list, and then she texted fellow agents David Mulugheta and Tory Dandy: I think this might be a record.
For the first time in NFL history, more than half of the players selected in the first round of the draft were represented by black agents.
In a traditional draft year, when cameras pan across a green room filled with players, their families and their agents, a television audience might have noticed. But there was no green room this year, with the novel coronavirus pandemic shuttering plans to hold the draft in Las Vegas, keeping all involved at their homes.
“Everybody would’ve seen it,” said Jovan Barnes of Independent Sports & Entertainment, “because it would’ve been nothing but us in there.”
Seventeen of the 32 selections Thursday night counted African Americans among their representatives. (Some players are represented by more than one agent.) The scattered, remote locations did nothing to diminish the significance of the milestone for a group of elite, mostly under-40 black agents who say they have dealt with what they describe as implicit bias when making their pitches to families of all colors.
“I don’t think families entertained having an African American agent for a long time,” said Mulugheta, who led the list with four first-rounders. “People look at a young black kid and think, ‘What can he really do for me?’ I still get that to this day, to be honest with you, and I’ve been in the business for a while. I think you have a lot of players now who feel they don’t have to go with the status quo.”
Lynn faces similar skepticism but on two fronts: In 2019, she became the first black woman to represent a top-five pick when the New York Jets drafted Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams No. 3.
“There’s always a struggle getting people comfortable with you doing the job,” Lynn said, “and understanding that just because you don’t look like Jerry Maguire doesn’t mean you can’t do that job.”
|David Mulugheta||Isaiah Simmons, Jordan Love, A.J. Terrell, K’Lavon Chaisson|
|Damarius Bilbo||Chase Young, Jeff Okudah, Mekhi Becton|
|Tory Dandy||CeeDee Lamb, Cesar Ruiz|
|Nicole Lynn||Jedrick Wills Jr.|
|Rocky Arceneaux||Clyde Edwards-Helaire|
|Brian Overstreet||Jeff Gladney|
|Stan Wiltz||Patrick Queen|
|Tracy Lartigue||Damon Arnette|
|Jovan Barnes||Henry Ruggs III|
|Charles Fisher||CJ Henderson|
|John Thornton||Andrew Thomas|
All of the agents contacted for this story pointed to the late Eugene Parker as the “godfather” of black agents who inspired many to pursue careers in the field. Parker, who died in 2016 at 60, represented Hines Ward, Emmitt Smith and Walter Jones, among others, and is often described as the first black “super agent.”
“Eugene set the tone for all black agents,” Lynn said.
“It’s about representation,” Mulugheta said. “… Seeing him told a lot of people that you don’t need to be an athlete to stay involved in sports. Growing up, I never saw a black agent, so that wasn’t something I saw as possible, but once I was leaving college, that’s when I found out about Eugene Parker.”
Barnes, whose father, Roosevelt, is a longtime NFL agent and former partner of Parker’s, said he drew inspiration from their practical, no-frills approach to the business.
“I just watched what they did,” Barnes said. “They did everything with integrity. They taught these young men how to navigate the whirlwind they’re going through.”
Parker’s legacy is also a reminder of the next frontier for black agents: representing white quarterbacks and white players in general.
“Name the last time a first-, second- or third-round white player was represented by a black agent,” Mulugheta said. “You can’t. I think the last time you had a white, first-round quarterback repped by a black agent was 2003: Rex Grossman, who had Eugene Parker.”