Women Sports Agents Are Changing The NFL Draft Landscape

By Kevin Casas Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Coming into the 2006 NFL draft, Texas Tech's Cody Hodges had plenty to overcome in hopes of finding a team that would offer the 6-foot quarterback an opportunity at the next level.

Chief among them was finding a representative with the moxie and confidence to sell hard on a quarterback that commanded the "Pirate's" offense in Lubbock under coach Mike Leach.

Like the long-shot that was Hodges entire career, the Hereford native went with a long-shot agent named Kelli Masters to sell his services to NFL general managers and coaches.

At that time, Masters, based in Oklahoma City, was among a handful of women representing NFL players.

Today, about 50 women are among the 875 agents registered with the NFL Players Association. The 2015 NFL Draft is Thursday through Saturday at Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University in Chicago.

Masters, Jill McBride-Baxter and Kristen Kuliga are among the more notable women representatives.

Side-stepping the fact that Masters had no clients or league experience, putting together a marketing and business plan to get Hodges drafted was also an inaugural effort.

Yet, it worked. Hodges signed and undrafted free agent deal and went to training camp with the Tennessee Titans.

"I am a lawyer by trade, so it's not like putting that plan together was foreign to me," Masters said. "It was just that I hadn't done it in this sense prior and Cody hired me without any tangible proof that I could do the job.

"There were certainly things to overcome. There wasn't much he could do about his height, but we focused on the things that made him successful and the things that NFL coaches wanted to see. I will always be grateful for Cody taking a chance on me."

Agent landscape Masters has represented players in every draft since taking on Hodges and brings four players into the fold this season, including TCU's Sam Carter, Notre Dame's Cam McDaniel, Oklahoma's Jordan Phillips and Tulsa's Demarco Nelson.

She's managed Tampa Bay defensive end Gerald McCoy since he was drafted third overall by the Tampa Bay Bucs in 2010.

McBride-Baxter's been at it since 1988 and counts numerous clients in her stable, including Miami Dolphins wideout Marlin Moore.

Having negotiated Doug Flutie's 6-year $33 million deal with San Diego, Boston-based K Sports and Entertainment is run by Kuliga and still counts Flutie as a client 21 years later.

Even entertainer turned agency mogul Jay-Z has taken on a woman, former K Sports intern Kim Maile, to handle his Roc Nation athletes.

But whether player's agents is a man or woman, and dismissing the idea that gender ever made a difference, prospective football players count women among the successful agents they vet each year.

"And no one's going to tell you to your face if it does matter, so I've never worried about it," McBride-Baxter said. "I've been around football my entire life. I'm the daughter of a football coach and married to one so it just made sense as a mom that it could be a career path for me."

Kuliga said she's had some minor episodes, but doesn't count herself as a trailblazer.

"Most of the time, I've used humor to jab back," she said. "But the bottom line, is the bottom line. If you represent your players well, it doesn't go unnoticed."

The woman card Masters, a former Miss Oklahoma and Oklahoma City news correspondent for CBS, said she simply hasn't had any experience with something approaching sexism as an agent.

"I think only a couple of times the parents of a player I was recruiting were surprised when I walked in to the room because they thought I would be a man," Masters said. "But all that quickly goes away because essentially players and parents just want to know if you can do the job and if having me would best fit their needs.

"In a lot of meetings early on, I think the main question was as a woman why would I want to do this. I think in the beginning there was some curiosity and how I do things differently. But everything now is based on work I've already done."

For Carter, his evaluation of agents came during his junior year when the TCU defensive back was nearing graduation and felt the itch to make the next level jump.

Masters' name came up in several conversations along with a couple of other male agents.

"It wasn't totally that I've had strong women in my life. I've had a strong father also," Carter said. "But in doing my research, she and I just had a connection. I don't know how to put it in words, but she just seemed like the kind of person that would have my best interest at heart every time.

"A lot of agents say that, but when you do the research, it was clear Kelli was the kind of professional that would see this all the way through for me."

Understanding law and being an honorable, aggressive counselor is one place to start in the legal profession.

But Masters said she wasn't keen on the idea of being an agent from the beginning.

"I remember early in law school being hit with that question in a lecture and a number of hands going up," she said. "I wasn't among those. But I was an athlete growing up and even though I stiff-armed it for a while, it began to become clear that this was what I should be doing.

"Once I got out of law school, I accepted a job with a firm and worked hard toward being made partner and then my workload started to increase. It was always a huge commitment, but I had an inkling for something different."

Masters said her internal guide was pointing her toward positioning her practice to serve people.

That led her to early pro-bono work for non-profit groups, which became a full-blown side interest and then ultimately working for a professional athlete's foundation.

"That's where I got a glimpse into that world and it wasn't long before I was being asked by some moms and former agents to consider taking on some work," Masters said. "I was told several times that some of my legal clients would have loved to have someone as honest and works as hard I did from beginning."

That only led to more requests for Masters' time and then ultimately she spent a year doing due diligence on the possibility of adding the role of NFL player agent to her resume.

"I began to talk more with players, coaches and other agents and I was warned about it quite a bit before I registered with the NFLPA," Masters said. "But the idea of it just wouldn't go away."

The early days Every agent has different stories of how they entered the business and for Kuliga it was the untimely passing of arguably the godfather of modern player representation Bob Woolf.

The Boston attorney, described in his obituary by The New York Times as a pioneering negotiator for athletes, died at his Florida home in 1993 while ironically watching Monday Night Football.

"I had accepted a position with the Army JAG corps when I got a call from Bob's son Gary," Kuliga said. "Because of Bob's passing, they needed someone to come on as an intern and take on some workload. So that intern spot turned into a job for a little over seven years.

"I did everything from hockey to baseball salary arbitration cases and lots of work in the background on the football side."

That led her to a professional relationship with Wolf Associates client Doug Flutie.

In 2000, Flutie, who was coming off two bizarre seasons in Buffalo where he was essentially a backup with a better record in comparison to starter Rob Johnson, signed a $33 million deal with San Diego.

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