Show Them the Money: 8 Famous and Infamous Sports Agents

In addition to all of the stereotypically negative things you might be inclined to say about sports agents, you can say this: they’re an interesting bunch. Here’s a collection of agents who became famous for all the right, wrong, or unlikely reasons.

1. Josh Luchs

Luchs made news in October when the former NFL agent dished about the corrupt nature of the business in a Sports Illustrated cover story. Luchs broke into the agency business after working as a ball boy for the Los Angeles Raiders and learned the ropes from Harold “Doc” Daniels, who had a reputation for paying players. One of the estimated 30 players Luchs paid between 1990 and 1996 was quarterback Ryan Leaf, who received $500 a month at Washington State in a failed effort to land the future NFL disappointment.

While Luchs was never busted for paying players, his career came crashing down when the NFL Players Association suspended him for one year in 2007 for mishandling a commission check and thereby breaching his fiduciary duty to a client. With that stain on his record, Luchs decided his days of pursuing clients were over. He offered some insight in the article as to why he decided to come clean, claiming he doesn’t want his two daughters to Google his name and read only negative things about their father. “I was a good agent and I took care of my players,” Luchs said. “I don't want my career to be defined by that suspension.”

2. Charles C. Pyle

Pyle, who plied his trade as a theater owner and sports agent during the first half of the 20th century, never had to worry about his children Googling his name. Cash and Carry, as C.C. was sometimes known, represented University of Illinois football star Red Grange.

After Grange signed with the Chicago Bears in 1925, Pyle led the “Galloping Ghost” on a lucrative barnstorming tour of the United States. The tour, which featured 16 games in less than two months, earned Grange more than $100,000. When the Bears rejected the halfback’s contract offer for the following season, Pyle threatened to create a rival NFL team in New York City with Grange as the star. The NFL refused to allow it, so Pyle created his own league, the first American Football League. The AFL folded after one season, but Pyle’s New York Yankees franchise, led by Grange, was admitted into the NFL.

Pyle was a master of selling personality as much as athletic prowess. One of his main clients outside of football was French tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, who played in 40 cities throughout the United States, Canada, and Cuba during a 1927 tour. In 1928, Pyle organized the Bunion Derby, a footrace from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York.

3. William “Tank” Black

Black was an All-American receiver and assistant coach at the University of South Carolina before starting his own business, Professional Management Incorporated, in 1988. His first client was a fellow former South Carolina receiver, Sterling Sharpe, the seventh pick of the 1988 NFL draft. Over the next decade, Black’s list of star clients at PMI would steadily grow. In 1999, he represented a record five first-round NFL draft picks, in addition to NBA superstar Vince Carter. “What can I say?” Black told Sports Illustrated at the time “It’s a very financially successful business.”

While some agents may have suspected that Black was bending the rules, few could have predicted that he would be involved in one of the biggest sports agent fraud cases in history, and be the subject of investigations by the SEC, IRS, and FBI. When the dust settled, Black served eight years in prison on money laundering and fraud charges, and was accused of scamming his clients, including former University of Florida stars Ike Hilliard and Fred Taylor, out of nearly $15 million.

4 & 5. Norby Walters and Lloyd Bloom

In 1985, Walters, a longtime agent in the entertainment business whose clientele included Janet Jackson, expanded his business to include sports representation at the suggestion of the younger Bloom, who had worked as a bouncer at New York’s trendy Studio 54. It turned out to be a bad decision. According to Chris Mortensen’s 1991 book about the infamous duo, Playing for Keeps, Walters and Bloom offered 58 college players $800,000 for the exclusive rights to represent them when they turned pro. Walters and Bloom were soon the subjects of a 17-month FBI investigation, after which they were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit extortion, racketeering, and mail fraud. In addition to accusations that they offered college players money, the indictment alleged that Walters and Bloom threatened players who accepted money but ultimately didn’t sign. Bloom was accused of telling a client and teammate of former Texas standout Everett Gay, “We can get someone from Vegas to come down and see that Everett Gay doesn’t play football again.” The FBI’s investigation revealed connections between Walters and Bloom’s operation and organized crime.

Walters and Bloom were initially charged, but the verdict was thrown out one year later on appeal. Walters continued his career as an agent in the entertainment business. Bloom was shot to death at his Malibu home in 1993.

6. Mark McCormack

McCormack founded International Management Group in 1960 and pioneered the sports marketing industry. He was, by most accounts, one of the good guys in the business, no matter what the head of IMG’s golf division had to say in a 1990 Sports Illustrated article that dubbed McCormack the most powerful man in sports. “We're IBM, the 1927 Yankees, whatever. Everybody hates us.” While playing for the golf team at William & Mary, McCormack met a Wake Forest star by the name of Arnold Palmer. After McCormack earned his law degree at Yale, he met Palmer again at a tournament in Cleveland where he was working at a law firm. A handshake led to a business partnership and McCormack began setting up endorsement deals for Palmer on the side. In 1961, Palmer made an estimated $200,000 in addition to tournament winnings, which was unheard of at the time. McCormack signed Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus, and later branched into other sports, signing the likes of Martina Navratilova and Pele. McCormack died at the age of 72 in 2003. Today, IMG boasts nearly 3,000 employees in 30 countries.

7. Leland Hardy

Hardy, a Wharton School graduate whose unique career has included stints on Wall Street and as a professional boxer, as well as 15 years as the business advisor to Serena and Venus Williams, is responsible for what is widely regarded as one of the worst rookie contracts in NFL history. While working for rapper Master P’s firm, No Limit Sports Management, Hardy negotiated the contract for former Texas running back and the No. 5 pick in the 1999 NFL draft Ricky Williams. The eight-year deal included a record $8.84 million signing bonus, but very little guaranteed money. If Williams had a tremendous eight years, the incentive-laden deal called for him to earn as much as $68.5 million. If Williams failed to perform, he could earn as little as $11.6 million over the course of the contract. Williams, who didn’t reach most of the benchmarks in his contract, fired No Limit Sports and signed with Leigh Steinberg in 2003.

Hardy is doing just fine, though. The entrepreneur and owner of thousands of domain names purchased for a small fee in 1994. Today, experts estimate he could sell it for $6 million.

8. Dwight Manley

Dennis Rodman was reportedly $1 million in debt when he first met Manley at a Las Vegas casino in 1993. I saw “a diamond in the desert that just needed some polishing,” Manley told Sports Illustrated in 1997. “It was so obvious.” Manley, who sold his rare-coin dealing business when he partnered with Rodman in 1995, helped turn the controversial player into a marketer’s dream. After Rodman was traded to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, he signed a book deal for an autobiography, “Bad As I Wanna Be.” In 1996, Rodman appeared in multiple ads, filmed the movie “Double Team” with Jean-Claude Van Damme, and earned $9 million in non-basketball income. Manley, who later represented Karl Malone among other NBA players, has also produced a History Channel documentary about California Gold Rush-era money and served as a consultant to the FTC and IRS in cases involving valuable coins.

job secrets
10 Secrets of Hotel Room Service

Guests visiting New York City's Waldorf Astoria hotel in the 1930s enjoyed an amenity that was unheard of at the time: waiters delivering meals directly to their rooms. While the Astoria’s reputation for luxury has endured, room service is no longer exclusive to five-star stays. Roughly 22 percent of the country’s 54,000 hotels [PDF] are willing and able to bring breakfast, lunch, or dinner to people who prefer to eat while splayed out on a large and strange bed.

To get the scoop on what goes into getting food from the kitchen to your floor, Mental Floss spoke with Matt, a hospitality specialist who spent a total of 10 years working in and around room service for a major San Francisco hotel. Matt preferred not to use his last name; since his stories sometimes involved naked people, undercooked chicken, and Oprah, you can understand why. Below, check out a few things you should know before you dig into that tray.


When a room service delivery employee takes a tray from the kitchen to your room, it’s typically covered in a metal lid to retain heat and to prevent other guests from sneezing on it. The higher up you are, the longer it has to travel—and the more that lid traps steam, soaking your food in moisture. “Food sweats in there,” Matt says. “Instead of having crispy, toasted bread, you get wet toast. The longer it stays in there, the worse it gets.” If you want crunchy fries, you’d better be on the first couple of floors.


A seafood dinner is presented on a plate

That lid is a nuisance in other ways. Because it traps heat, it’s effectively cooking your food in the time it takes to get from the chef’s hands to yours. “If you order a steak medium, it will probably be medium well by the time it gets to you,” Matt says. While you can try to outsmart the lid by requesting meat be cooked a notch lower than your preference, it's not so easy to avoid overcooked fish—which will probably also stink up your room. Instead, stick with burgers, club sandwiches, or salads. According to Matt, it’s hard to mess any of them up.


Just because you see a menu in your room, it doesn’t mean the hotel has a kitchen or chef on-site. To cut costs, more hotels are opting to out-source their room service to local eateries. “It might be ‘presented’ by the hotel, but it’s from a restaurant down the street,” Matt says. Alternately, hotels might try to save money by eliminating an overnight chef and having food pre-prepped so a desk clerk or other employee can just heat it up. That’s more likely if sandwiches or salads are the only thing available after certain hours.


Two coffee cups sit on a hotel bed

No, not for the reason you’re thinking. Because so many hotel guests are business travelers who are away from home for weeks or months at a time, some of them get tired of eating alone. When that happens, they turn to the first—and maybe only—person who could offer company: the room service waiter. “People are usually traveling alone, so they’ll offer you food,” Matt explains. Sometimes the traveler is a familiar face: According to Matt, he once sat down to eat with Oprah Winfrey, who was eating by herself despite her suite being filled with her own employees. He also says he had a bite with John F. Kennedy Junior, who wanted to finish watching Fast Times at Ridgemont High before heading for his limo.


Busy hotel kitchens aren’t always paying attention to whether the chicken wings they buy in bulk are frozen raw, frozen cooked, or somewhere in between. “Ask for them extra crispy,” Matt says. That way, they’ll be cooked thoroughly regardless of their freezer status. “I recommend that to everyone.”


A hotel guest pours milk into a bowl of cereal

Breakfast is undoubtedly the busiest time for room service, and those little cards that allow you to check off your menu items the night before are a huge help. “It’s great for everybody involved,” Matt says. “The kitchen can pace themselves and you can get your food on time.”


Yes, guests answer the door barely clothed. No, this is not optimal. “We don’t want to see it,” Matt says. “It's something we dealt with numerous times.” While it's likely your waiter will use discretion, any combination of genitalia, drugs, or illicit activity is best kept out of their sight.


A hotel room service tray sits in a hallway

That move where you stick your soggy fries outside your door? It can lead to some awkward encounters. Matt says he’s seen other guests stop, examine trays, and then pick up discarded food from them. Other times, people leave unimaginably gross items on the trays. “I’ve found condoms on there. Divorce paperwork. All kinds of things.”


Weird people aside, “We don’t really want it out there,” Matt says. “It stinks.” Instead, dial 0 for the front desk and let them know you’re done eating. They’ll dispatch someone to come and get it.


A tip is placed near a hotel check

People pay out the nose for room service, with hotels adding surcharges for “service” and “in-room” dining that can turn a $5 club sandwich into a $15 expense. That’s not great news for guests, but it does mean you don’t need to feel bad about not offering a cash tip. Those service fees usually go straight to the employees who got your food to your room. “I never tip,” Matt says. “Most of the time, the service and delivery charges are given to the waiter or split between the people who answered the phone and pick up the tray. It’s better to leave it all on paper to make sure it gets divided up.”

Big Questions
What is Mercury in Retrograde, and Why Do We Blame Things On It?

Crashed computers, missed flights, tensions in your workplace—a person who subscribes to astrology would tell you to expect all this chaos and more when Mercury starts retrograding for the first time this year on Friday, March 23. But according to an astronomer, this common celestial phenomenon is no reason to stay cooped up at home for weeks at a time.

"We don't know of any physical mechanism that would cause things like power outages or personality changes in people," Dr. Mark Hammergren, an astronomer at Chicago's Adler Planetarium, tells Mental Floss. So if Mercury doesn’t throw business dealings and relationships out of whack when it appears to change direction in the sky, why are so many people convinced that it does?


Mercury retrograde—as it's technically called—was being written about in astrology circles as far back as the mid-18th century. The event was noted in British agricultural almanacs of the time, which farmers would read to sync their planting schedules to the patterns of the stars. During the spiritualism craze of the Victorian era, interest in astrology boomed, with many believing that the stars affected the Earth in a variety of (often inconvenient) ways. Late 19th-century publications like The Astrologer’s Magazine and The Science of the Stars connected Mercury retrograde with heavy rainfall. Characterizations of the happening as an "ill omen" also appeared in a handful of articles during that period, but its association with outright disaster wasn’t as prevalent then as it is today.

While other spiritualist hobbies like séances and crystal gazing gradually faded, astrology grew even more popular. By the 1970s, horoscopes were a newspaper mainstay and Mercury retrograde was a recurring player. Because the Roman god Mercury was said to govern travel, commerce, financial wealth, and communication, in astrological circles, Mercury the planet became linked to those matters as well.

"Don’t start anything when Mercury is retrograde," an April 1979 issue of The Baltimore Sun instructed its readers. "A large communications organization notes that magnetic storms, disrupting messages, are prolonged when Mercury appears to be going backwards. Mercury, of course, is the planet associated with communication." The power attributed to the event has become so overblown that today it's blamed for everything from digestive problems to broken washing machines.


Though hysteria around Mercury retrograde is stronger than ever, there's still zero evidence that it's something we should worry about. Even the flimsiest explanations, like the idea that the gravitational pull from Mercury influences the water in our bodies in the same way that the moon controls the tides, are easily deflated by science. "A car 20 feet away from you will exert a stronger pull of gravity than the planet Mercury does," Dr. Hammergren says.

To understand how little Mercury retrograde impacts life on Earth, it helps to learn the physical process behind the phenomenon. When the planet nearest to the Sun is retrograde, it appears to move "backwards" (east to west rather than west to east) across the sky. This apparent reversal in Mercury's orbit is actually just an illusion to the people viewing it from Earth. Picture Mercury and Earth circling the Sun like cars on a racetrack. A year on Mercury is shorter than a year on Earth (88 Earth days compared to 365), which means Mercury experiences four years in the time it takes us to finish one solar loop.

When the planets are next to one another on the same side of the Sun, Mercury looks like it's moving east to those of us on Earth. But when Mercury overtakes Earth and continues its orbit, its straight trajectory seems to change course. According to Dr. Hammergren, it's just a trick of perspective. "Same thing if you were passing a car on a highway, maybe going a little bit faster than they are," he says. "They're not really going backwards, they just appear to be going backwards relative to your motion."

Embedded from GIFY

Earth's orbit isn't identical to that of any other planet in the solar system, which means that all the planets appear to move backwards at varying points in time. Planets farther from the Sun than Earth have even more noticeable retrograde patterns because they're visible at night. But thanks to astrology, it's Mercury's retrograde motion that incites dread every few months.

Dr. Hammergren blames the superstition attached to Mercury, and astrology as a whole, on confirmation bias: "[Believers] will say, 'Aha! See, there's a shake-up in my workplace because Mercury's retrograde.'" He urges people to review the past year and see if the periods of their lives when Mercury was retrograde were especially catastrophic. They'll likely find that misinterpreted messages and technical problems are fairly common throughout the year. But as Dr. Hammergren says, when things go wrong and Mercury isn't retrograde, "we don't get that hashtag. It's called Monday."

This story originally ran in 2017.


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