Female sports agents breaking down barriers, but acceptance is slow
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Move over, Jerry Maguire. Here comes Jenny.
The transformation of the sports agent stereotype may be one of the more interesting subplots in Jay Z's recent formation of Roc Nation Sports. In his bid to become a sports management powerhouse, the entertainment mogul has hired a female attorney, Kimberly Miale, to represent his NFL players, including rookie Geno Smith, who is challenging Mark Sanchez for the Jets' starting quarterback job.
Women have made great strides in sports as athletes, journalists, marketing professionals, financial experts and even team executives in the past 10 years, but they remain a rare breed in the uber-macho world of sports law, especially in team sports.
Of the 713 agents currently certified by the NFL Players Association, only 28 are women. That's less than 4 percent despite the fact that, according to the American Bar Association's most recent study, 47.3 percent of law school graduates are women.
The numbers are even worse in other major team sports. Only six of the 400 agents certified by the MLB Players Association and only six of the 375 agents certified by the NBA Players Association are women.
"It's a very tough business for a woman to break into," said Kristen Kuliga, a Boston-based agent who employed Miale as an intern and has represented a number of NFL players, including Doug Flutie, over the years.
Tough enough that you could almost hear a collective jaw drop when it was announced that Miale, who is certified by the NFLPA but previously had only two NFL clients, would be representing the high-profile Smith.
Though much of the reaction might have to do with Miale's lack of experience and the way Smith may have been recruited to Roc Nation Sports, women who have been working the business for years believe that Miale's gender also was a factor, especially when they read profiles of Miale such as the one that ran in The Boston Globe on May 26.
"Until this week, the most newsworthy thing Kimberly Miale ever did was marry her Suffolk University Law School sweetheart," the story began in reference to the fact that a newspaper wedding announcement was all the reporter could find when he did a search on her.
"I don't think you would see something like that if she was a man," said Kelli Masters, an Oklahoma-based agent who represents a number of NFL players.
Miale has not granted an interview with any publication since her hiring, and she did not return calls and texts for this story. Smith, after speaking with Miale, also declined to talk about her for the story, but he made it clear through the Jets' public relations department that her gender was a non-issue for him.
It still, however, might be an issue for the profession's sports agent brethren. Three veteran female agents interviewed for this story painted a picture of a profession that is changing but still is a good decade behind the rest of the legal world.
Jill McBride Baxter, who represents a number of players, including Jets punter Robert Malone, still can recall the day more than 20 years ago when she was a law school student and recruited then-super-agent Leigh Steinberg to speak at a meeting of the school's sports law club. During the course of his speech, Steinberg said a woman could never make it in the business.
"I just didn't listen to him," said McBride Baxter, whose father, Ron McBride, was the head football coach at Utah and Weber State and whose husband, John Baxter, is on the staff at Southern Cal. "I grew up around football, and I knew this is what I wanted to do."
Masters, a former Miss Oklahoma and television news anchor, remembers being stunned by the attitude of fellow agents when she first broke into the business.
"The world of sports representation can be really closed off from the rest of the world," Masters said. "There have been times I've sat across the table from people and thought, 'Do you know we've had a woman secretary of state for years and we almost had a woman president?' ''
Added Kuliga: "Some of the other agents are the worst. I've been in situations where they tell a player, 'Why would you hire a woman? She's never played the game, she doesn't understand.' The funny thing is when you look around at sports agents, half of them haven't worn a jockstrap in their entire life."
Vidal Hazelton, who was in camp with the Jets before being cut this past week and is a Masters client, said he never thought about whether a prospective agent had played football when he interviewed them.
"I really didn't care if my agent was a guy or a female or an orange person," Hazelton said. "I just wanted someone I trusted who was going to work her butt off for me."
Malone, however, said one of the reasons he decided to go with McBride Baxter is that she is a woman.
"Personally, I believed since there were not that many women out there who were well-known agents that she would stick out," he said. "If you get 10 calls and one is from a woman, you're going to remember her.''
So why aren't there more female sports agents? Kuliga, who has had a number of women, including Miale, in the sports law class she teaches at Suffolk University in Boston, believes it's all about opportunity.
"It's so expensive that it's hard to do on your own, so you have to start out at bigger agencies," she said. "Most of those agencies are run by men, and it's not that they purposely don't hire women. It's just that people tend to hire people like themselves."
Jay Z's hiring of Miale, however, could change all that. As head of Roc Nation Sports' football division, she seems destined to become a major player in the sports representation world.
Said Kuliga: "I've known Kim for 10 years. She's diligent and extremely smart. I have no doubt that she will do a terrific job. I'm excited for her and I'm excited about the doors it may open for other women who want to get into the business.''