Sports agent Peter Schaffer says he plays golf because it’s the “ultimate challenge sport.” Of his peers, Schaffer says super-agent Scott Boras represents his clients, but Drew Rosenhaus is “lying and cheating and stealing to get contracts and players.” (Andy Cross photos, The Denver Post )
The news that former Broncos running back Travis Henry had been arrested on cocaine distribution charges might have been a “there but for the grace of God” moment for most sports agents across the country. But the only scrambling Peter Schaffer was doing when the news broke was out of the rough at Vista Ridge Golf Club in Erie.
Schaffer, 46, isn’t immune to misfortune befalling the athletes he represents, but with a clientele that has included such NFL luminaries as Barry Sanders, Eddie George, Willie Roaf and Al Wilson, the odds might be in his favor.
One day last week, with one of his favorite foils, KCNC sports anchor Vic Lombardi, in tow, Schaffer dished on a number of aspects of the art of the deal, NFL-style. But before lining up his opening tee shot, the Denver resident addressed a simple question.
“I like challenges, and golf is the ultimate challenge sport. Every shot is different, every day is different, every hole is different. And you can play against someone, whether it’s an 18-handicapper against a 1-handicap. And it’s the competition. I just like competition.”
Rocky Mountain high
“I’d like to think what my role is for a player is to be someone who’ll help him manage his career. I think through the years we’ve established a track record of success, with a bevy of relationships through the NFL, PGA Tour, NHL, whatever. And so we tell potential clients that you don’t need to have your agent in New York or Los Angeles — you just need him to be dedicated. It’s only a disadvantage of perception; the reality takes care of itself. The players who come out here really love it — they think it’s going to be some snowy, weather-dominated town and players see this and realize how beautiful it is.”
The midnight hour
“I like trying to outwork everybody. It’s tough on the family — you work until whenever and you come home, and I’ve got two great kids, a 4-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter, and I get two hours with them before they go to bed. And then my poor wife probably wants some kind of conversation, but then the phone rings until midnight and you’re talking with players, teams, potential clients or reporters.
My wife asks me: ‘What are you going to do today?’ And I really have to say: ‘I don’t know.’ You have 70 clients, there are different issues, anything can happen — you just never know.”
“I enjoy recruiting athletes because you get to meet kids from all walks of life from all over the country. I always take the attitude that if you’re honest with them, you’ll get a fair shot. The key to it, to use a popular term, is that you have to vet the client to find the players who are in sync with you — the same morals, ethics, the same goals. If you do that, then you’ll have a better chance of being successful. If he goes with me, fine. If he goes with someone else, I don’t take it personally.”
“Recruiting Joe Thomas (an offensive tackle from Wisconsin, chosen third overall by Cleveland in the 2007 NFL draft) — he was recruited by about 150 agents. That’s how competitive it is. But what I think won out was being honest and forthright with him and his father. We tell them our track record and say, ‘Here’s what we do.’ When you make business decisions in a business where people shop on busy streets, look at who we’ve had, the character of the individuals.
“A lot of people leave agents because they’re lied to. If you say this is what you can do and you do it, they stay with you. If you don’t, that’s usually when a player leaves. Sometimes I’ll lose someone because my honesty doesn’t match the level of someone else who is puffing the player up with false promises, but in the last three years, we’ve had 30 players come back to us because they didn’t get things they were promised by others.”
“You really have to educate the player about what an agent really can do. In a lot of other businesses, you’re dealing with sophisticated people who know what they’re looking for from a professional — in this situation, you’re dealing with 21-year-olds who’ve never been in this position. Sometimes they get their information from ‘Jerry Maguire.’
“We tell them what an agent legitimately can and can’t do and what they should expect. The biggest misconceptions about the business are created by other agents telling clients what can happen. Like in marketing, you can take an offensive lineman and tell him he’s going to get TV commercials and roles in Hollywood movies, but the reality is that’s probably not gonna happen. Yet someone will tell them that with a straight face and it gets hard to convince them otherwise.”
The dark side
“I don’t think Scott Boras is bad for business; he takes a very intellectual approach and he drives a hard bargain, but he represents his client.
“But Drew Rosenhaus and people like him stretch the level of credibility. That’s bad, because you’re in a business where you want to portray a sense of ethics, morality and honesty and he’s admitting that he’s lying and cheating and stealing to get contracts and players. That’s not good for any business.
“The morals and ethics of our society have to be driven by the professionals of our society. It’s always easy to lie and cheat to get to where you want to go, but it should be about doing it the right way. I don’t think the way he does things can be defined as successful — in any business. He makes it harder for us, but people like that will never affect how we do business.”
“Players get fired — that’s what it is. The NFL is unlike all the other sports because there are no guaranteed contracts, so everybody’s year to year and day to day. I was doing Jim Haslett’s contract with the Rams (Haslett recently replaced Scott Linehan as coach); they were saying he’s the ‘interim’ coach — well, to my mind, everybody’s interim. I told the owner, I’m an interim husband. That’s really what it is in this league.
“But you try to look at everything positively. You’re talking about a 21-year-old college senior who, as an undrafted free agent, will make $295,000 — very rarely does that happen for someone coming out of school. Life has a yin and yang to it — that’s the yin, making this incredible amount of money and setting yourself up for life, and all the fortune and fame. But the tradeoff is that it can all be taken away from you at any given moment, even if you’re doing everything right. Al Wilson is having a great career and he collides on a punt return and the next thing you know, it’s over.”
Sense of loss
“Injuries are a part of the game and they’re horrible, but the players know the risks. It’s interesting when you’re dealing with vital organs and body parts. There’s being cleared to play and then there’s getting the risks to an acceptable level.
“Those are two different things. With Al, the reality was that the risks never got to an acceptable level. It’s one thing if you’re (Hall of Fame defensive back) Ronnie Lott and you say you’re going to cut off the tip of your little finger to play football — that makes a great story, but it doesn’t affect your life. When you’re talking about a C4, C5 vertebra injury, with potentially catastrophic results, it puts everything into a different light.
“What sticks out to me wasn’t the night he was hurt, but after he was cleared by the Broncos. We had him traded to the Giants and were thinking that everything was OK, but then the doctors there told him his career was over. The phone call I got from him after that, after they told him he could be paralyzed if he played football again, was the most sobering call I’ve gotten. Nobody saw that coming. You walk into a room thinking everything’s good and you’re about to sign a five-year, $25 million contract, with an $8 million signing bonus, and the next thing you know, you’re being told you could be in a wheelchair or killed if you play. It was like an out- of-body experience for both of us.”
At the table
“Every contract has its own unique issues and challenges, whether it’s a seventh-round pick or a top-10 player. You have to treat everyone like it’s Barry Sanders because it’s their career, and you have to put their own individual stamp on their deal to put them in the best situation.
“It’s interesting on an intellectual level because there are so many moving parts: Is it a three-, four- or five-year deal? . . . What about incentives? . . . Can a player reach them? Do you want the player to stay with a team? If he’s a nickel back on a team, do you do a shorter deal so he can go to another team and be a starter? You want to look at a contract, not only as it being good today, but also it being good tomorrow or the next year, too.”
“We’re not only looking for first-rounders, we’re looking for guys who can have long careers. Unless you’re a top-10 pick, it’s really the second contract that’s going to make or break the player’s career and set them up for life. That’s what we’re trying to do, set up as many players for life as possible, so you want the guys who will stay focused and stay out of trouble and keep their eyes on the prize.
“Through the years, we’ve established a great network of general managers and coaches who look, not just at the talent — the talent, a lot of people can see — but also the player’s character and background. We can talk to a scout about a player and he’ll say: ‘He’s a great player but he’s not your kind of guy.’ If that happens, we’ll back off that player.”
Anthony Cotton: 303-954-1292 or email@example.com
The Dream Team
My dream foursome would include Jim Thorpe, the greatest athlete of the 20th century; Muhammad Ali, the greatest athlete of the second half of the century; and Frank Sinatra — the coolest man who ever lived.
Most memorable shot
At City Park about 10 years ago, I was playing in one of Tom Woodard’s skins games. I was probably an 18-handicap then. On the 17th hole, I hit a halfway decent drive and was about 220 yards out. I hit a 3-wood that I thought was long. We looked for it and looked for it and looked for it — it was in the hole for a double eagle. And I won $200.
From the tips
My dad always told me, “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.”