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R. David Ware watched the National Football League’s player draft in April with more than the usual sports fan’s interest. The partner at Atlanta’s Constangy, Brooks & Smith represented nine players drafted by NFL franchises, including six of the top 100 picks. According to Street & Smith’s Sport Business Journal, Ware represented more top draft picks in the 2002 NFL draft than any other independent sports agent. Two of Ware’s clients were picked in the first round: University of Miami cornerback Phillip Buchanon, drafted by the Oakland Raiders, and Florida State University wide receiver Javon Walker, drafted by the Green Bay Packers. There’s no requirement that sports agents be lawyers, and most aren’t, but Ware believes that legal training is essential to advocate effectively for pro athletes. He notes that NFL player contracts are governed by a complex and detailed collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union, covering issues ranging from compensation and retirement benefits to player injuries and trades. Ware’s J.D. enables him to handle his clients’ legal issues outside of the stadium, including endorsement and commercial deals, civil litigation, real estate transactions and the occasional paternity suit, he explained. In addition, Ware also provides marketing and business management services for his clients’ off-the-field enterprises through his company, Vortex Sports and Entertainment Inc. Ware demurs at discussing his own paycheck. Under NFL rules, agents’ commissions are capped at 3 percent of the players’ salary, which averaged $1.1 million in 2001. Ware also charges a 15 percent to 25 percent fee for Vortex’s marketing services. HUMBLE BEGINNINGS The son of a sharecropper in Carrolton, Ga., Ware attended West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia), where he studied for his 1976 English degree while playing on the school’s basketball and track teams. After receiving his law degree in 1979 from the University of Georgia, Ware became an associate at Atlanta’s Kilpatrick & Cody (now Kilpatrick Stockton), where he worked on contracts and collective bargaining. The firm represented the city’s professional sports teams, giving the former college athlete his first glimpse of the legal side of sports. Ware, 48, has combined careers as a lawyer and sports agent since 1984, when his first pro football client, Darryl Jones, was drafted by Green Bay in the seventh round. Five years later, he broke into the big league of sports agencies by representing running back Barry Sanders. Sanders, who won the 1989 Heisman Trophy in his junior year at Oklahoma State University, would have been a prize catch for any agent — were it not for an NFL rule barring nonseniors from participating in the college player draft. Ware successfully petitioned NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to rescind the seniors-only rule, arguing that it was unfair to players and in violation of pro football’s limited exemption from antitrust laws. If the NFL hadn’t relented, Ware said, he was prepared to make a federal case of it. Ware represented Sanders throughout his decade-long career with the Detroit Lions. He negotiated Sanders’ final, record-setting contract in 1997 — a six-year, $36 million deal with an $11 million signing bonus. Like more than half of all NFL players, the now-retired Sanders is black. However, he was among the few NFL players, of any race, actively to seek out and hire a black agent. Ware estimates that white agents, or white-owned firms, represent nearly 90 percent of NFL players, and nearly all of the most highly paid athletes. Ware says that he began his sports law career with the na�ve belief that sharing the race and low-income background of many pro football players might give him a business edge. “I assumed that because we shared not only skin color but a common fight for justice in this country, I’d be an overnight success,” he said, “Well, I was wrong. To this day, there is still an overwhelming prejudice against black agents representing black or white players.”

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