It is, perhaps, understandable that sports executives tend to
lick their chops when they look across the bargaining table and
see 60-something Phyllis Freed for the first time. If they can
handle the oleaginous Jerry Maguires, their thinking goes, they
should have no problem putting one over on a grandmother of
seven whose idea of incendiary language is yelling, "Lord
knows!" But the executives inevitably realize that Freed is
beef-jerky tough. "Phyllis may be better looking than David
Falk," says Steve Patterson, former general manager of the
Houston Rockets, "but she drives just as hard a bargain."
Freed, the only female agent to represent an active player in the
NBA and one of only a few in the NFL, is as anomalous as a
drug-free cyclist. But her clients say they hardly notice. "When
I chose her, I had no qualms about her being a woman," says
Atlanta Falcons free safety Eugene Robinson, who has been with
Freed since 1985. "I trusted her, I knew she was competent, and
I'll retire with her as my agent."
In a profession marked by shamelessness, Freed has never
recruited athletes. As a result her current stable of clients is
small: Robinson, Washington Wizards forward Otis Thorpe and
former NBA journeyman Anthony Bowie, who plays in Lithuania.
Former clients include Kennard Winchester and Adrian Caldwell,
both of whom played for the Houston Rockets. Still, she's making
out fine, given that she takes the NBA's standard 4% agent's cut
of Thorpe's $4.6 million annual salary and the NFL's standard 3%
of Robinson's two-year, $3.55 million deal. "I sound just like an
athlete, but it's not about the money," says Freed, whose
company, Pro-Sports Agency of Canfield, Ohio, has a lawyer, an
accountant and a career counselor among its board of directors.
"I've always been a big sports fan, and now, at this stage of my
life, I'm going to Super Bowls and NBA Finals. And I can bring my
grandkids with me."
Freed penetrated this most male-dominated of fields by accident.
In 1984 she offered to help Thorpe, a friend of her son, Chip,
find representation before he entered the NBA draft. The more she
shopped around, the more she realized that she could do the best
job for Thorpe. At the time her family owned a steel-fabrication
company in Canfield, and one of her primary duties was
negotiating with the United Steelworkers Union. "I knew that I
could be Otis's agent and do a good job," she says. At the time,
agents didn't have to register or be certified, but to be safe,
she contacted the NBA Players Association and explained the
situation. "They told me to be sure he thought I was the best
person and then treat him like I would my family."
He did, and she has. Freed holds back tears when one of her
players is traded or wins a championship; her clients call her on
holidays; she carries pictures of their kids in her purse. "I
don't mother these guys, but I think women have a more human,
caring touch," says Freed, a mother of three, two daughters and a
son. (Several years ago she lost the older daughter, Marilynne,
to cancer.) "My guys feel they can come to me with their
problems, no matter how small, and so nothing festers."
That said, she grows uncomfortable when talk turns to breaking
down barriers and opening doors, of being a pioneer. "I'd rather
be known as a sports agent and not as a female sports agent,"
Freed says. "It's too bad I'm seen as being so unusual."
Lord knows she's right.
"I don't mother these guys, but I think women have a more human,