There are two stories going on today in sports that can only be categorized as sad—though neither is all that surprising.
The first involves the former agent, Josh Luchs, who in a Sports Illustrated story this week put together by George Dohrmann, one of the magazine’s truly gifted reporters, goes into painful detail about his years paying college football players. What makes the story credible is that Luchs names names—lots of them. He doesn’t portray himself as some kind of victim of the rules or a do-gooder. He simply explains how he got into the business and how he started paying players. Then he explains how he STOPPED paying players when he went to work for Gary Wichard, whose name has become a part of the ongoing debacle at North Carolina.
Is it a shock to anyone that there are dozens of guys like Luchs out there, working either on their own or for agents, who are giving money to players? No. What makes the story important is the detail. Luchs not only names the players he paid, he describes how he did it and how much he paid them. He also names players who turned down money when he offered it to them. Some players have confirmed the story; most have either refused to comment or ducked calls from the magazine. Ryan Leaf, a centerpiece in the tale, admits knowing Luchs and hanging out with him but doesn’t remember taking any money for him. Read the story and decide who you believe on that one.
A lot of agents and the NFL and the NFLPA are going to claim that Luchs is tainted because he was suspended for turning a check from a player over to his lawyer rather than to Wichard, who he was in a dispute with at the time. The check was for a little more than $5,000 and Luchs quit being an agent after his suspension because he thought the incident tainted him in a way that would make it impossible for him to recruit players in the future. He makes the point that he was never investigated or suspended or disciplined in any way for paying college players but was suspended for putting a check into trust with his lawyer during a legal dispute.
At the end of the piece Luchs says he came clean because he has two daughters and when they go on line and read about him in the future he doesn’t want them to only find the stories about his suspension. That may sound like a stretch. I believe him. I believe every word of the story. It has an absolute ring of truth to it.
One small part of the piece is Luchs describing a pre-arranged phone call with Mel Kiper Jr. in which Kiper just happened to call while Wichard and Luchs were sitting in their office with a big-time college player.
“Hey Viper,” Wichard said, according to Luchs. “I’m sitting here with the best defensive end in the country.”
“Well,” Kiper said, “That must be (I forget the guy’s name).
The player signed with Wichard and Luchs.
Kiper’s defense is that being friends with agents helps him get to know players. Here’s my question, why does someone who is supposed to be analyzing players need to know them? And, if Kiper wants to taIk to a player for some reason, you’re telling me they won’t talk to him? They all think he’s a star, a very important guy. That’s a complete copout. He doesn’t NEED agents to do his job.
I’m a reporter, I NEED to know players. I do everything I can to avoid dealing with agents. In fact, sometimes when a player tells me I have to talk to his agent in order to talk to him, I say thanks, but no thanks.
In 1993, when Wayne Grady was still an important player—having won the 1990 PGA—I approached him about talking to him for ‘A Good Walk Spoiled.’ Grady was very pleasant and polite but said, “I’ll need you to talk to my manager.”
For Jack Nicklaus I might talk to an agent. Not for Wayne Grady. On the rare occasions when I have taken a deep breath and dealt with an agent, it has led me to—nowhere. I was interested a couple years ago in doing a hockey book involving Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. I made the mistake, on the advice of Gary Bettman, of talking to Crosby’s agent. (I should have just walked into a locker room and introduced myself to Crosby and taken my chances that way. In the past when I’ve done that I’ve succeeded even with guys I don’t know about 90 percent of the time). The agent and I talked back and forth several times about setting up a meeting for me with Crosby. It never happened. “Sidney doesn’t want another distraction this season,” he said.
The point of the meeting was to explain how I could do the book without being a distraction—which I could have. I’ve done it before. Agents are paid to say no 99 percent of the time unless someone is paying—then the answer might be yes.
Of course the apologists are already coming out of the woodwork to attack Luchs. The morning pitchmen on ESPN had Luchs on today. Throughout the morning they referred to him constantly as, “this guy,” or “this agent.” They wondered if he was a snitch. Then Chris Mortensen came on and said, “this guy was decertified by the NFLPA.” No he wasn’t. He chose to leave the profession after the suspension. You may say that’s a technical point but Mort throwing it out as absolute fact—almost casually—sums up what the establishment’s approach to Luchs is going to be.
During the interview Greenberg asked Luchs if he felt badly about, “throwing people under the bus.”
These players knowingly took money, in many cases asked for money. They knew they were breaking the rules just like Luchs knew he was breaking the rules. There are no innocents in all this—including Luchs. The difference now is Luchs isn’t claiming to be innocent.
After Luchs, Kiper came on and blustered about how important it was to know players and how, “we all do it,” (become friends with agents). Actually Mel, we don’t. Do I know some agents? Of course. I get along with some better than others but I sure as hell don’t ever talk to them while they’re recruiting a player. Luchs makes the point that Kiper never said, “Hey, you should sign with Gary Wichard.” What he did was give Wichard an extra level of credibility because college football players DO know Mel Kiper and what he does.
The one guy who stood up for Luchs was Kirk Herbstreit. Good for him.
Some are comparing Luchs to Jose Canseco—whose charges in his book on steroids in baseball ended up being 99 percent verified when all was said and done. Here’s the difference: Luchs wasn’t paid for this story. He didn’t do it to make money. He says he did it for his daughters. I believe him.
On to Brett Favre. The NFL is ‘investigating,’ charges that Favre sent texts and phone messages and pictures of himself—not ones you would want your kids to see—to a former employee of the Jets while he was playing with them. Favre has refused to talk about the story, which makes him APPEAR guilty. It doesn’t make him guilty but even the apologists are having trouble wrestling that one to the ground.
Here’s one prediction: Roger Goodell is not going to be the one to end Favre’s consecutive games streak. If the charges prove true he may reprimand him, he may fine him. He isn’t going to suspend him. He will point out—correctly—that Favre has never been in trouble with the league before. If guilty, Favre will pay a heavy price. You can bet he won’t be seen in too many jeans commercials down the road and it might even affect Favre’s ability to get a network TV job—at least for a year or two—if he ever does retire. Oh wait, silly me, ESPN is still in business. Forget that last thought.
All of which is fine with me. If he did this, he’s a boor and he’s stupid. That said, I don’t think it quite makes him Tiger Woods. Or is that my anti-Tiger bias? Or is it racial? My friend Michael Wilbon apparently thinks it’s racial. Here’s what he wrote in today’s Washington Post:
“We’ll see if the hypercritical morality police officers who sentenced Woods to damnation for his philandering ways are as heavy-handed with a fair-haired quarterback and the face of America’s favorite sport…or if Tiger’s transgressions are deemed to be somehow, ‘different.’ We’ll see.”
Look, Wilbon and I have been down this road before. He likes Woods, I don’t. But seriously? What Favre is accused of doing somehow falls into the same category as what Woods has admitted to doing? “Hypercritical morality officers?” One had to be hypercritical to think Woods was, you know, not exactly the best guy in the world to do what he did?
Favre has been lampooned (correctly) time and again for his Hamlet act on retirement. Everyone—even ESPN—is reporting this story as it moves along. So how does race or people being ‘hypercritical,’ factor in here? Seriously Mike, I know you consider Tiger a friend, but the time to start claiming he’s been unfairly treated hasn’t arrived yet.
And probably never will.
(Note: Click here for George Dohrmann's article-- Confessions of an agent)