It's no secret that Jay-Z and his Roc Nation Sports banner have chosen the athlete representation business as their next takeover target. The rap mogul was not shy about his entree, signing away high profile superstar Robinson Cano from perhaps the most powerful agent in all of sports, Scott Boras.
His influence on the also highly publicized move by Victor Cruz over to CAA was substantial as he and Cruz developed a strong friendship and with that the trust required of a confidant that athletes generally seek in their decision making process.
Then came arguably the highest profile move by Roc Nation Sports with the signing of talented prospect and recent New York Jets second round draft pick Geno Smith. The controversy surrounding Smith's decision to fire his agent after falling to the second round in this year's draft put this move under close scrutiny. To make matters even more interesting, Roc Nation utilized the service of an unknown NFLPA agent, Kimberly Miale, to act as Smith's certified contract adviser. Miale has never negotiated an NFL contract. It would follow that she has minimal experience in the very detailed, complicated and important role that an agent plays in working with an athlete leading up to, during and after their professional career. The agent will have a tremendous affect on the athlete's life and thus it is a role that should be performed with extreme care and expertise.
Just as a law firm would not place a high profile client in the hands of a rather inexperienced associate, neither should an agency place the care of a potential starting quarterback and NFL star in the hands of an inexperienced contract adviser. Miale may turn out to be great at her job, but the experience required to properly manage an athlete of Geno Smith's caliber does not come in the form of an agent who has never negotiated an NFL contract. This is not a poor reflection on Miale but rather a substantially poor reflection on Roc Nation's management and intentions.
The athlete representation business has been the subject of just criticism as business dealings have been conducted with improper intentions that have left athletes in dubious circumstances. There are a number of other poor examples of athlete agents and their behavior but at its core this is a business about helping the athlete and any behavior that has a negative affect on the athlete should be met with the highest form of scrutiny.
Geno Smith is only a few months removed from getting drafted and he is now the subject of an NFLPA investigation surrounding the circumstances of his Roc Nation Sports signing. He had question marks surrounding his character (which NFL teams do not take lightly) and then his behavior after the draft raised even more red flags. His sole focus from the draft until the season begins should be on becoming the best quarterback and teammate he can be. Instead, his focus will be clouded.
The NFLPA should, and I suspect they will, take the investigation seriously. The rule against NFLPA certified contract advisers using "runners" has been pointed out by the NFLPA as a recent point of focus. This note was sent to agencies in April, 2012:
"While all of these amendments are important, we ask you to pay particular attention to Resolution 1 which repeals the so-called "junior rule" and prohibits a Contract Advisor from using, employing or entering into any business relationship with an individual to recruit prospective player-clients who is not an NFLPA Certified Contract Advisor. "
Here, Jay-Z would have been acting as a runner for Miale. It is crystal clear that Jay-Z played a significant role in attracting Smith to sign with Miale. Smith's Twitter post of himself and Jay-Z with the caption "Ballin till they ban us" is the most obvious piece of evidence in support of this.
The picture may shout foul, but the facts are just as transparent. Geno Smith fired his agents for, among other things, his fall in the draft. His solution was to then hire Miale. It's almost painfully obvious. Miale may now face serious repercussions from the NFLPA to the point where Smith may be left without an agent and will have to move to his third agent before having ever signed an NFL deal. This is very unfortunate and it will have negative implications in Smith's career. This is the exact opposite of what an agency should be doing for a client.
With Roc Nation Sports having a partnership with industry powerhouse CAA, it is hard to imagine how the decision making process could have been so poor. Jay-Z's banner is primed to be a significant player in the field with significant access to multiple areas that could benefit an athlete. If his first move in the NFL is any indication of the company vision athletes should be wary. The decision to masquerade Miale as Roc Nation's go-to for football was shortsighted and most importantly it did not place the best interests of the athlete above all else. Smith (and probably Miale) has become a casualty of a leap-first mentality. Time will tell just how damaging this saga may prove for the talented quarterback. Let's hope clearer waters are ahead in New York.