Feb. 27, 2007
Nearly every young athlete, at one point or another, has been told, `It's just a game.'
But for people like Eugene Parker, sport is so much more than just a recreational activity; it is a lifetime commitment and a career.
Parker was a standout on the Purdue basketball team from 1974-78 and was the MVP of the '76 Boilermaker squad. The 6-1 guard amassed over 1,400 points in his career and is currently 18th on the Boilermakers' all-time scoring list.
"I had a great experience as a Purdue student-athlete," Parker said. "I learned a great deal about the importance of teamwork, dedication and persistence by playing within such a high-caliber program. By combining these principles with the knowledge gained in the classroom, I was well-prepared to move on and continue my education."
Upon graduating from Purdue, Parker was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs and went on to play with Athletes in Action for one season before he enrolled in Valparaiso Law School, earning his J.D. in 1982.
But even as a law student, Parker still found a way to remain involved in athletics, serving as an assistant basketball coach with the Crusaders from 1980-82.
After he began practicing law, Parker was approached by former three-sport standout at Purdue, Roosevelt Barnes Jr., who needed advice on his contract with the Detroit Lions.
"I realized, after assisting my friend and current partner Roosevelt Barnes Jr. with his NFL contract, that I had something unique to offer when combining my experiences as a student-athlete, my legal background and my negotiating skills," Parker said. "Also, since a large number of athletes entering the professional ranks are African-American, I felt I could relate to them in a way that the current agents of the day could not."
Parker's advice to Barnes kick-started a hugely successful career in sport management that began as something he did almost on the side.
"I started the work as a part of my general law practice," Parker said. "Eventually, the sports agency work became my entire focus, and that is when I started a separate company."
Parker's sports agency, Maximum Sports Management, got its start in 1984 when former Purdue football star Rod Woodson became Parker's first official client. Then, in 1987, Barnes, who sought Parker's advice years earlier, signed on to become Parker's partner. In 1993, the Roanoke, Ind.-based Maximum Sports Management became an official corporation, governed under state laws.
The location is crucial to Parker, a Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who says his least-favorite part of the line of work is the time he has to spend away from home.
Since his beginnings as a sports agent, Parker has represented some of the biggest names in professional football including Emmitt Smith, Ray Lewis, Curtis Martin, Hines Ward and Deion Sanders to name a few.
In Sanders and Cornelius Bennett, Parker negotiated the first $2 million per-year contracts for non-quarterback players. Parker also engineered the largest rookie contract in NFL history, signing Larry Fitzgerald to a six-year $60 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2004 season.
Perhaps the only thing more astonishing than his clientele is the way Parker does business. Parker's agency is one of Christian values that prides itself on integrity and taking care of its clients' best interests.
Parker also focuses on serving the complete person, helping the client adjust to life as a professional athlete.
"[One of the things I enjoy most about working in sports is] being able to help young men learn about the business and planning their careers and lives so that they can take care of themselves and their families," Parker said. "And also, I enjoy being a part of an ever-changing industry - an industry that people from all walks of life are very passionate about."
And that passion is something that Parker has needed to project onto his own work, because just as sports are competitive on the field, they remain that way off it.
"This is a tough, competitive business," Parker said. "It is not for the meek or the thin-skinned. The sheer numbers involved are daunting. So, when students look at this as a possible profession, they really need to do their research and be sure they want to put themselves in the mix.
"That being said, it has been and continues to be, a wonderful career to me, and I am very grateful for the success that I've had."
Parker's success did not come easily. In a profession where over 1,000 registered sports agents vastly outnumber 32 first-round draft picks, building a solid reputation takes time and effort.
"In the beginning, it was difficult to be taken seriously and gain the respect needed to pursue top clients," Parker said. "By persisting and doing high quality work for my first clients, I was able to use that as a foot in the door, and each season, client by client, the business grew."
And with the growth of his business have come numerous accolades for Parker who has received recognition from several national publications.
Parker has been named as one of the top agents in professional sports by both Sports Illustrated and ESPN, and in March, 2005, Parker was listed as one of the 50 Most Powerful Blacks in Sports by Black Enterprise.
With all these awards and honors under his belt and a client list that would make the Pro Bowl blush, Parker is proof positive that sports is more than just a game - it is a lifestyle, and a good one.