The lavish lifestyles of professional athletes can often come with pitfalls, temptations and heartache. But one sports agent, Adisa Bakari, is doing more than just showing his clients the money. He’s teaching them how to save, invest and pad their pockets for the time when their professional careers are over.
By 4:30 in the afternoon, Bakari, 43, has intensely negotiated with a team on behalf of one of his players. He’s helped one client track down his passport, helped another relocate to a new city, and he’s also done a little pre-recruiting for next year’s draft. “That’s kind of the typical day,” Bakari says, via phone from his Washington D.C. based office.
As the chair of The Sports & Entertainment Group PLLC, Bakari represents more than 30 active NFL players. Among them are New York Jets running back Matt Forte; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs; San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell; and Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor.
Aside from managing their endorsement deals–such as Taylor’s new Toyota spot–and procuring sponsorships, Bakari counsels his players on a variety of matters, both personal and business.
Each year, prior to NFL training camp, Bakari invites the troop to a weeklong player retreat filled with fellowship, financial seminars and fun activities. Since 2015, the retreat has been held in early July at the Fontainebleau hotel on Miami Beach.)
“We like to think that the players understand at the end of it, they have a business team at their disposal to assist them with business issues and that they’re not alone,” he says. “They’re not out there navigating this multi-million dollar business by themselves and when issues come up, they have skilled people to call and rely on.”
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, a new study shows that nearly 16 percent of NFL players will go broke within 12 years of retirement. It also found that having a lengthy, highly-paid career does not provide major protection against bankruptcy.
Bakari bluntly acknowledges these findings. “The fact that you might be good at football does not make you an expert at business,” he says. “We’re talking about very young people who lack a great deal of business savvy, and whose first job is one that will provide them millions of dollars. If you don’t provide that person with very skilled experts in a variety of fields, you’re setting them up for failure each time.”
Bakari grew up in 1980s Washington, D.C. which he describes as “challenging” because it was during the height of the crack epidemic. His family was working class. Although his folks didn’t have a lot of money, Bakari says he received endless amounts of love and support from everyone in the household. At a young age, Bakari began to play football and excel, yet he told everyone he knew that he would one day become a lawyer.
“When I was asked what I want to be, I would always say a lawyer,” recalls Bakari. “I didn’t know why, I just knew that’s what grandma said, so I was repeating it.”
While playing football for Delaware State University, Bakari began to hone in on his future profession. He realized that football, like many other professional sports , could offer financial benefit to many. He wanted to help young athletes reach their goals on and off the field. That dream started to become his passion during his junior year, so he quit the team.
“I started out wanting to effect change for my community and wanting to be involved in sports, “ Bakari says.
After hanging up his football cleats for good, Bakari graduated from law school at the University of Wisconsin, and started off as an executive compensation lawyer. He founded the sports and entertainment division at his first practice, Dow Lohnes, and was certified as a sports agent for the NBA and NFL.
Jones-Drew, who retired in March of 2015 after nine seasons, says he signed with Bakari and his sports entertainment group because “they focus on the whole player” and life after football.
“From the very beginning, Adisa instilled in his clients that football is what we do and not who we are and that we are businessmen first, so that has been my mentality from day one,” says Jones-Drew. “During my time as an NFL player, I evolved both as an athlete and as a businessman.”
In regards to Jones-Drew’s decision to step away from the game early, Bakari says it was all part of their plan.
“He told me in year one how many years he was hoping to play,” Bakari says. “We went about putting things in motion to achieve that plan. It’s encouraging to see young men decide to make a decision about health and lifestyle and happiness over money. That’s the position you want to be in. You want to make the money and be financially secure, so that you can choose and not have the game decide.”
Says Jones-Drew: “Adisa is more than my agent, he’s family to me. He was a groomsman in my wedding. We vacation together. I lean on his advice both in my professional and personal life.”
The perks of being a sports agent, including getting tickets to games, are gratifying for Bakari, however he’s humbled that after 16 years, he earns a living by being involved in a game.
“There are much more noble professions…educators, doctors, teaching our youth,” Bakari says. “We’re involved in a game. That’s what our lives revolve around: a game we’ve all played as children and now we can all make a living off of it. The biggest reward is watching my young clients turn into successful businessmen and being able to position their families for generations to come.”