Agent Nicole Lynn might just be the female Clark Kent of the sports industry – minus the nerdy façade. During her 9 to 5 she practices law, but on the weekends you can catch her at college and NFL games recruiting and supporting top talent on behalf of Young Money APAA Sports (yes, she is one of the first female agents that worked for Lil Wayne’s sports agency). Come Draft Day this award-winning BAUCE will take her seat at one of the most coveted tables in sports with her client Alabama defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
Nicole came from humble beginnings in Oklahoma, but through perseverance, grit, and some muddy heels have made her mark amongst sports royalty. As you can imagine her expertise is highly sought after, with clients reaching beyond the NFL into softball, the American Ballet Theater, and entertainment.
This woman is about her business, but what’s most impressive is her dedication to each of her clients’ success once their time as a professional athlete is over. She makes it her mission to ensure her players obtain robust careers and achieve their goals, on and off the field, by preparing them from day one with a strategy to smoothly make their next transition.
In this interview with BAUCE, Nicole Lynn shares how she’s persevered through several highs and lows to make history as a woman in a man’s world.
You’re prepping to make history on and after Draft Day as the first black woman to represent a potential top 5 pick in the NFL Draft. How do you keep your client hungry, yet still enjoy the ride?
Nicole: As far as making history, it’s very exciting to be in that position. There’s not been a black woman specifically with a first-round draft pick, and if Quinnen does go number one overall, there’s never been a woman with the number one overall pick to solo rep a player. So very excited about that.
There’s a lot of time between now and the draft, there’s a lot of stuff Quinnen has to do right to still secure a really high draft spot. We’re as a team making strategic decisions about what he does at the combine, we’re prepping him for interviews – he and I are working hard to make sure we provide the best showcase that we can, that he should be the number one overall pick.
The first draft day I’ll be in Nashville at the draft, sitting there with Quinnen in the Green Room. It’s gonna be exciting, I’ve actually never been to the physical draft at a table, and they only invite about 40 players to the draft. So I’m just excited to have a guy that’s been invited and to sit at the table with them and watch history be made, and his dream come true.
Who inspires you professionally or personally – do you have a mentor?
Nicole: Unfortunately, it’s difficult to get a mentor when it comes to black women. There aren’t a lot of black women in the space – there aren’t a lot of women at all. There are 900 sports agents, less than 5% of those are women, and probably under 1% are black women. So it’s really hard to find that.
My mentor is actually a guy that believed in me — his name is Ken Sarnoff. He’s a white male that took a chance on me. I will say that a decent amount of my friends from college that are in the NFL were some of his clients. These are black men that advocated for me to him, that I would be the next big agent, and he either wanted to work with me or compete against me. So I had a lot of these younger men like Aaron Colvin of the Houston Texans, Frank Alexander who was drafted by the Panthers in the fourth round, Donald Stephenson who played for the Broncos and now is retired – but a lot of black men went to bat for me which is awesome.
Do you feel a certain responsibility as one of the few women on the field? Do you have a message for young women of color to welcome them into this space?
Nicole: Yeah, I always feel a lot of weight on my shoulders being in this role. Like I mentioned there aren’t a lot of women for me to look to – for example when I’m getting ready for a football game I don’t know what to wear because it’s my first football game or combine as an agent. I remember literally thinking I have no one as an example, there’s one or two but really there’s not a lot, so I’m a trailblazer in that respect.
I make it my mission to be extremely transparent in my journey. If you follow my social media I’m always posting about my struggles as a woman, like what shoes am I gonna wear? Here’s why it’s hard right? I can’t mentor all 5,000 young girls that want to be a sports agent, but my hope is that I can at least be transparent in my journey and it can help them.
The message for women just generally is that I think eventually things will change and that there will be more seats at the table – but as cliché as it is, when there’s not a seat at the table make your own table. I know people say that all the time but I literally had to do that — carve my own way into the industry even when it wasn’t welcoming.
The way I make my own table is by doing things very differently. I recruit a lot based on my social media, I do marketing way different than the white men that came before me.
After Young Money APAA Sports acquired PlayersRep, making Lil Wayne your new boss, how did your coworkers and clients react? Are Weezy’s standards tough to meet?
Nicole: I think everybody was excited about the transition over to Young Money APAA, all the agents and players moved over so we were already a family, and we just moved that family to the Young Money brand. Lil Wayne has the same passion that I have for sports, and he sees these players need more hands-on attention from their agents, they need help making the transition out of football – his reason for getting in sports is very genuine and pure, in that he wants to see a change. We have the same mission statement (both companies), so it made it really seamless. Lil Wayne is easy to please, he’s such a big cheerleader, and very grateful for the work that we do, and is really great to work for.
Slowly things are changing for women in sports, thanks in part to your amazing career as well as other barrier-breaking BAUCES. How can men and women improve their awareness, and convince others to stay open-minded in the business of sports?
It’s going to take time and seeing other faces that don’t look like you in this business. Typically it’s been white men, and usually older white men. It’s them getting more comfortable with having conversations with people in the business who don’t look like them. It’s also changing every area of sports, to be able to diversify. I’m an agent, this is one side of the business — there are a lot more women on the executive side. I think we need to add more women as financial advisors, working for the brands, the team, for the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), and trying to find a way to diversify all sections of sports. Lastly, I would say that we need to be more welcoming to each other. If someone’s been in the business for a while being able to answer questions and be a mentor for people that don’t look like them.
What advice do you have for BAUCE readers looking to overcome recurring barriers in their respective industries?
Nicole: I speak on this a lot and tell anyone I’m speaking to or mentor that the biggest thing I learned as an agent in my first year is that you have to get comfortable with losing. I lose ten times in this business more than I win. Every day I’m losing. For example, I may recruit 25 players in a year, and they all tell me no besides one. People that genuinely win are comfortable with losing and then make the next step in hopes of winning. Keep it steppin’ is what I say. Once you’re in that position and it becomes natural for you, you will always eventually win. Even winners lose and that’s huge.
Name a positive role or impact that WAGs (Wives and Girlfriends) have on your clients and business.
Nicole: Some of the WAGs — at least my players’ wives and girlfriends — are the best WAGs period. These WAGs are so important to the players’ success. They’re very much a support system. I find that the players with WAGs are usually more successful on and off the field. Parents are there and come and go, agents are here and there – WAGs, a wife, is there every day when you don’t play well, you do play well, you’re making decisions about the business when you’re trying to get endorsement deals, etc.
They play such a big role, and they’ve sometimes got a negative connotation that comes with them, but I’m getting to see them intimately, and how they deal with their husbands, and they’re crucial. I have just as much a relationship with my WAGs as I do with my clients, I call my WAGs my clients. Anything I’m pitching to my clients, the good clients are going to their wives and making sure that their wives are ok with the decision. So really my clients are both.
A lot of them are doing really big things in their community, they’ve got nonprofits, they’re running businesses – specifically, I have a WAG, Zina Davis, who is married to the starting linebacker for the Denver Broncos. She just started a preschool in the Bay Area that is doing amazing, she’s a top broker/realtor (she sells all the homes to the top NFL players), and then she has a 501c3, and she’s a mom of three kids, a football wife. I mean it’s crazy, I don’t know how you do it all. What’s more interesting is she doesn’t have to do any of it, her husband makes so much money. She chooses to work and go the extra mile, and be a member of the team and provide. It’s so impressive.
Your client’s life after football (or any other sport), and its seamless transition is your sweet spot. What qualities are most important in securing a long and lucrative post-game career?
Nicole: I always tell my players, specifically in the NFL, that NFL stands for “Not For Long.” Any type of job that has an end date is not a career. The NFL has a start and an end date, it’s just a really high-paid temp job. From day one I tell my players you got a really high-paid temp job. That’s it. It’s super important from day one to help my guys determine what their career is going to be because this is not it.
Once we know what that goal is, do things to achieve that goal. In the off-season it may be taking classes to finish their degree or doing an externship with the NFLPA so they can get experience. It may just be saving so they can buy a home and have financial freedom. It looks different for every situation, and depending on the contract size they get. What I’m always doing is trying to have those open and honest conversations early on.
It’s the most important part to me and something I differentiate myself with. Other agents don’t want to have that conversation — it’s really tough to say on day one, “Hey, one day you’re not going to play football so let’s talk about the day you get cut.” It’s uncomfortable. There’s been a statistic that shows 75% of all NFL players file some level of bankruptcy or have a financial hardship — that number is way too high.
You are such a busy woman. How do you balance and find time for self-care?
I’m really bad at this. If I’m being transparent, self-care is something that I absolutely struggle with, it’s kind of a journey. I work as a lawyer Monday to Friday, then on weekends, I’m at football games. On Saturday I’m at college games, on Sunday I’m at NFL games. I don’t take vacation days at my law job, my vacation days are used for the combine, the Senior Bowl, the NFL Draft.
Part of the book that I’m writing is about that – finding purpose and peace. Last year I had a client on the Ellen Degeneres Show, I went to the ESPYS, I won Woman of the Year, I was NAACP Trailblazer of the Year, signed my first top 100 pick, I signed two no.1 picks overall in softball. I had an amazing year, best year successfully of my life, but I dealt with [issues around] internal happiness more than I ever had. I recognize as successful as you are, it does not equate to happiness or joy.
A lot of that is because I’ve been so focused on success vs. focusing on myself and what is going to make me happy – that goes into self-care, self-preservation, boundaries, all things that I fail at every single day. You think you’re walking in your purpose, you’re killing your purpose but you have no peace. Outside it looks like glitz and glam, but really I was dying inside for a year. That’s something I’m weak in, I recognize it, and I seek help from friends who are good at it, try to get them to keep me accountable on days off.
What’s your proudest career moment thus far?
Nicole: One of my proudest career moments – well I have a couple but honestly signing Quinnen Williams was huge. I was in the room interviewing with him, and when he decided to choose me, he told me the reason why: I was up against 30 agents, all of them had 5-50 first round picks and I had not. He told me: “I listened to one of your speeches and you talked about how you stood out in the rain for a player, and your heels were sinking in the mud, mascara down your face – all that happened and you didn’t get the player, and yet you still persevered. I want an agent that’s literally gonna go that hard every single time for me.”
It was a speech that I did, but it was crazy that he found it, because I never told him about it. It was such a proud moment for me because, in my opinion, that was my lowest moment. When I stood in the rain for that player, that was the lowest moment in my career, then that player came out and he totally dissed me. It kills me, it’s in my nightmares. But for someone to use my lowest moment, turn into good – my proudest moment – signing a first-round draft pick, I couldn’t have asked for a better set up. He saw it differently, for him to see so much grit and perseverance, and hard work in that. I see embarrassment, a girl that didn’t have it together and didn’t know what she was doing and was young. That was a super proud moment for me.
Want to connect with Nicole? Follow her on Instagram or drop her a note here.
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