This weekend we are going to see players of all races demonstrating during pregame ceremonies in the fight for racial equality. Black players specifically have had a hard year in light of the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and in figuring out how to publicly display their emotions about these killings, they've relied on their trusted agents.
Earlier this week I hopped on a call with Chafie Fields, a 43-year-old agent who starred at Penn State at wide receiver before playing a couple years in the NFL. He's the lead agent for 38 NFL players and co-reps a few others, which makes him, by volume, one of the most prominent Black agents today.
I asked him how he's processed the events of the past four months and how he's tried to help guide his Black clients.
"It's a little different because pre-George Floyd, my sentiments were the same as they are now. So George Floyd wasn't like this wake-up call to me," Fields says. "George Floyd has been something that I've seen all my life, literally. It's not new to me. I had my first encounter with the authorities when I was in the seventh grade. I was a baby. I saw police officers in person shoot individuals, my uncle was shot in the head by police. I've seen two police officers get shot in front of my house growing up.
"So my sentiments are the same and they've always been and I've always encouraged these young men to use their platform to speak on issues that we face in society. So it's not anything that's new or 'man let's take advantage of this.' This is something that [my clients and I] have been in deep conversations about what we can do to change it. And in my personal opinion again it's engaging our white counterparts to understand the real issues that we face. I think the George Floyd incident has engaged them more to our plight, which is great for those of them who really, sincerely want to make change and want to help. But we need more of them to have those sentiments and want to take a vested interest in helping to balance out the institutional disadvantages that have been in place since the existence of this country."
Some of Fields' top clients are Amari Cooper, Arik Armstead, Marlon Humphrey, Yannick Ngakoue and Chris Harris Jr. He's approaching two decades as an agent, and last year was named an executive vice president at Wasserman.
Matter of fact, all of Fields' clients are Black. He's never had a white player sign with him. With extremely few recent exceptions around the league, almost every Black agent reps only Black players.
"It's not a matter of me not wanting to or attempting to represent my Caucasian counterparts and friends. But for whatever reason, that door hasn't been opened to us the same that it has the other way around," Fields says "It's not any fault of ours because I feel there are a lot of Black men who can do a great job outside of myself, but I don't think we're given the same type of opportunities that our counterparts are."
Sadly, I've heard a few times over the years about Black players who opt to sign with a white agent because he either believes the white agent will be able to negotiate better with white front-office personnel, or that the Black agent won't be able to negotiate as well with that same white front-office personnel.
"I absolutely have been affected by that. I had a player tell me that flat out, actually," Fields says. "And you got to understand, for me personally, I'm not the guy who's recruiting guys who's 'you got to hire me because I'm Black.' That's not how I'm going in here. I have a resume of almost 20 years in this space of accomplishments that I can stand on. I'm not saying you should hire me because I'm Black, and quite frankly I don't believe that anybody should hire anyone just based on their race alone. I think it's important that you see and understand that this person is qualified to do the job."
Across the league this month, as you see Black players protest against racial injustice and police brutality, know that many of them have been working with their (likely) Black agent on how to best package and deliver their message on their platform to a huge audience.
"The reality of it in our climate that we're in, even though your intent is in the right place, sometimes what you're trying to accomplish can be taken the wrong way or misconstrued," Fields instructs. "So you want to make sure that whatever message you're trying to deliver is clear and concise and there's no room for anyone to make it what it's not."
Mask up! Four teams must wear them on sidelines Sunday
Players on 26 of the remaining 30 teams set to play this week will not be required to wear masks on the sidelines during the game. But for the Bills, Jets, 49ers and Cardinals, if you aren't between the white lines, it's mask on.
The NFL and NFLPA sent out the revised game-day protocols earlier this week, and due to local laws in Buffalo and San Francisco, anyone on the field but not participating in the game will be required to wear masks. The Bills are hosting the Jets and the Niners are hosting the Cardinals on Sunday.
The protocols currently state that players "who are not substituting into the game are strongly encouraged to wear masks on the sidelines" but not required. For now, just those two stadiums are in locales where it will be mandatory.
Arthur Blank explains his sideline appearances
On the topic of gameday protocols, NFL team owners (and up to two others in their party for a total of three) can be on the sidelines during games but will have to be tested at least twice in the lead-up to the game, including once within 24 hours of arrival to the stadium.
Obviously that got me thinking about Falcons owner Arthur Blank, whose sideline appearances are a weekly ritual. I got an early copy of his excellent book "Good Company," and Blank explains the reason behind standing on the sideline at the end of the game.
In the team's offices there's a bronze statue of a Sioux warrior that signifies one of the tribe's most fearless warriors who were selected to stand at the front of the battlefield and show "[w]hat he asks them to do, he is willing to do himself, and do first." From Chapter 9:
"I don't like to think of business as a battlefield, but nevertheless, the warrior's example strikes me as a fitting one for leaders in any business. We should always strive to set an example, not shy away from the difficult tasks or let others take the fall for us. Our associates should feel their leaders are standing with them, not looking down from some corporate HQ.
It's for this reason that every time the Falcons play, I go down to the sideline in the fourth quarter. When there are eight or nine minutes left in the game, I leave my seat and make my way to an area between the goal line and the thirty-five yard line. I don't interact with the players or interfere with the coaches in any way, but they know I'm there. This is an unusual thing for an NFL owner to do, and even though I've been doing it for almost two decades, the press and the fans of our opponents still misunderstand it, accusing me of drawing attention to myself and not knowing my place. But I really don't care what they say. I do it for our players and coaches. It's my way of telling them, 'I'm here with you, shoulder to shoulder, win or lose.' When the game goes into crunch time, I'm not going to be up in my suite hobnobbing with VIPs."
"Good Company" will be released Sept. 15 and you can order a copy here.
Big week for one agent
In the span of 15 days, David Mulugheta secured $324 million across three major contract extensions for his clients.
Mulugheta, president of team sports at Athletes First, has been established as one of the top agents in the game today. He helped Budda Baker become the league's highest-paid safety more than two weeks ago before helping Deshaun Watson ink a deal getting him more new money than Patrick Mahomes through 2025 ($156M to Mahomes $155.8M despite the half-billion deal.) And on Wednesday morning he helped Jalen Ramsey reset the cornerback market with an extension that can get him up to $21 million per year with incentives.
Quite a couple of weeks for Mulugheta. I hope he treats himself.