DETROIT - When Ohio State offensive tackle Orlando Pace became the No. 1 pick in last weekend's professional football draft, it marked the first time an NFL first-round draft pick was represented by an African-American company.
That firm is Professional Sports Planning in Farmington Hills, Mich., owned by brothers Kevin and Carl Poston.
Kevin Poston said the occasion is bittersweet.
"It's great that a first-round pick had black representation," Poston said. "But, 50 years after Jackie Robinson, we're still celebrating `firsts.' We're still not in the game like we should be.
"With all the recent talk about Jackie and the things he did, people think that we've solved the problem of race in sports. But if you look at the numbers, there's a long way to go."
More than 80 percent of National Basketball Association players are African American - but less than 10 percent of them have black agents.
The same holds true in other sports: about 70 percent of the players in the National Football League are black, while close to 40 percent of major league baseball players are either black or Latino. Yet, as in basketball, the percentage of minority agents representing these players hovers around 10 percent.
Changing a perception
Charles Farrell, director of the Rainbow Coalition for Fairness in Athletics, said it isn't a question of not enough minority agents.
"There are plenty of good black agents out there, but there's a
perception among black athletes that a white agent is going to get a better deal for the athlete than a black agent," said Farrell. "It's what we in the black community call `the colder ice syndrome.' That's the belief that the white man's ice is colder than the black man's ice."
Farrell said the Rainbow Coalition recently established the Black Sports Agents Association (BSAA) to increase awareness among African American athletes about black agents.
"We're trying to dispel the notion that black agents can't get the same financial deals as white agents," said Andre Farr, director of the BSAA and nephew of former Detroit Lions running back Mel Farr. "We're in the process of mounting a campaign where we will target athletes in college and maybe high school, to let them know that there are quality black agents out there."
The Postons are helping to increase the standing of African American agents. The $68 million contract Professional Sports Planning negotiated for point guard Anfrenee "Penny" Hardaway has been hailed by observers as one of the most creative in NBA history.
PSP also got Hardaway a lucrative shoe and sports apparel deal with Nike. Working with Nike, the Postons helped develop the popular "Lil' Penny" commercials, which aired during last year's Super Bowl. A "Lil' Penny" doll is slated for release next year.
"Basically, Penny will be taken care of for the rest of his life," said Poston.
Poston said things are slowly getting better for black agents.
"When I first got into this business (in 1989), there was only one other black agent of any significance," he said. "There are more now, but it's still nothing like it should be.
"When people watch a ball game, they don't root for a white player or a black player. They're rooting for their team. So we've made a lot of progress in that regard. Hopefully, the gains we've made on the field will translate into areas of sports off the playing field."