From doctor to watchdog to friend

As told to's Darren Rovell

I'm called a sports agent, but by trade I'm really a career and life manager. I wear so many hats I don't even know if any day could be called "typical."

David Canter
As the agent for Redskins star Stephen Davis, Canter has spent plenty of time with owner Daniel Snyder, left.
For some clients, I play doctor. I have to know detailed physical information about the injuries the players have suffered in the past. I have to know whether or not those injuries could be career-threatening or career-ending, and whether or not my client should see a doctor for a second opinion or if he should see a certain specialist.

I am always playing psychiatrist. Sometimes players who are not starting think they are getting a raw deal from the team. I often have to calm down a player or one of his family members over the phone.

Family members are tough, because they have had a very active interest in their son's careers from Pop Warner to high school and even into college, when they got heavily involved in the recruiting process. But the NFL is a business, and mom and dad's input once the kid is getting paid on a regular basis is not that important to pro coaches.

I also have to be a "no" guy. I have to be willing to risk offending or losing clients for their best interests, and that's very difficult. A player might do some heavy drinking on Monday night because he knows he has an off day Tuesday. Most guys who do that aren't in the NFL very long. If a guy is considering using drugs or has used drugs in the past or is hanging out with the wrong crowd, I have to tell him what he is doing is not good for his future -- even if that's not what he wants to hear.

During the offseason, I have to be ready to say "no" more often. NFL players live a more structured and more regimented life than athletes in other sports. They are soldiers who go to war every Sunday. But Sundays only come 17 weeks a year, plus training camp and the playoffs. So that means approximately 20 weeks of the year, I might have to give them advice that they need to hear.

I'm also a watchdog. We had an African-American client who was driving in his Mercedes Benz in a town that was known for racial profiling. Sure enough, he was pulled over. He and a few of his friends started a ruckus, and his friends were arrested. At 2:30 in the morning, my cell phone rang. It was the client's mother ready to burn down the world. She said she wanted his friends out of jail. I called the night watchman at the police station and arranged for his friends to be released. Had my cell phone not been on, his friends would have been in jail overnight for no reason, and my client would have been outraged.

David Canter
Agent David Canter rubs elbows with Michael Jordan at the ESPYs.
The friend and mentor side is a very difficult tightrope to walk. I have clients who not only consider me a friend, but also a member of the family. On the flip side, I never forget that I am an employee. I know that I work for my players and they don't work for me. They can hire and fire me at will.

If you haven't been fired in this business, you haven't been in this business. I'd say 75 percent of players in the NFL eventually switch from their first agent.

Sometimes you might think that you have a really great relationship with a kid and you've done everything in your power to make his life better. Then some smooth-talking guy offers him a bill of goods that won't necessarily pan out. It's baffling how this guy could tell you he loves you ... and then some guy, with maybe two NFL clients, tells him he'll be loved more and he'll be marketed better and 'blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah' -- and your man's gone.

We represented this offensive lineman from a mediocre small-market team who hired us after firing his agent. Following the season, even though there was no contract work, we did about six marketing deals for this player. He then told us he was broke. So we bent over backward to get him a large loan, and also signed him to a shoe deal. Then, out of the blue, he terminated us. I didn't believe it, and I still don't.

If there's one thing I've learned about this business, it's that you never, ever, ever, ever, ever get a second chance to retain your integrity, so you can never risk losing it. Ever. Your word is your bond and your honor. Unfortunately, there is a lot of corruption in this business, and there is a very fine line between agents who are honest and agents who will mislead and lie to get clients. There are 1000 certified agents, of which I'd say 100 of us represent some 90 percent of the NFL. That means that there are 920 people out there trying to get our clients or competing with us to get college athletes.

Players have told me about agents paying them, and I've witnessed some shady dealings. But I don't worry about guys that are violating the law, because eventually what goes around comes around.

The problem is you can't teach ethics. Just like you can't teach integrity, you can't teach honesty and you can't teach loyalty. Some of my competitors have written books about the agent business. But what we do can't be taught. That's why you won't find an "Agent for Dummies" in your local bookstore.

David Canter is president and founder of Total Entertainer and Athlete Management (TEAAM), he can be reached at

Confessions of a sports agent, part 1

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