Fair Game: Ethical Considerations in Negotiation by Sports Agents

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Over the past several decades the sports agent has emerged as an increasingly important figure in the negotiation of contracts for professional athletes. Although agents may have varying backgrounds, attorneys now comprise more than 50% of all agents representing professional athletes. This paper will focus on the attorney as sports agent. The agent is subject to regulation by the federal government, some state governments and the players associations. In discussing the role of the players associations the National Football League Players Association (“NFLPA”) will be focused on for exemplary purposes although other associations will be mentioned.

The agent is also bound by the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (“MRPC”) which include regulations regarding conflicts of interest and fees. Concurrent conflicts of interest may occur when an agent represents several athletes on one team or simultaneously represents athletes as well as coaches or management personnel. These conflicts are magnified in leagues in which an overall team salary cap exists. Careful examination of these conflicts and application of the MRPC clearly shows that the conflicts are unlikely to be resolved even with the athlete’s express informed consent.

There are also ethical considerations regarding agents’ fees, particularly when they are based on a percentage of the value of the contract negotiated by the agent. Arguably, these fees are not reasonable under the MRPC. Uniform rules should be established by players associations to identify conflicts of interest and prevent their occurrence. With regulations in place, ethical concerns in the negotiation process will be reduced so that the athletes’ interests are more exclusively served by the agent.

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