In Brad Garlinghouse, the Yahoo SVP who damned the internet corp's strategy in the peanut butter memorandum, Silicon Valley may have found its very own Jerry Maguire. The movie's hero, played by Tom Cruise, enjoys a rapturous reception when he makes an impassioned call for change at a company offsite: a mission statement entitled The things we think and do not say. And then Cameron Crowe, the movie's writer and director, has the hero brutally fired. For those Yahoo employees who found no poetry in Garlinghouse's call for thicker peanut butter, on fewer sandwiches, I give you the universal and timeless truths of Jerry Maguire: There is a cruel wind blowing through our business. We all feel it, and if we don't, perhaps we've forgotten how to feel. But here is the truth. We are less ourselves than we were when we started this organization.
the things we think and do not say: thoughts of a sports attorney
Miami Hilton, 1 AM
It's 1 AM and this might be the bad pizza I had earlier talking, but I believe I have something to say. Or rather, I have something to say that I believe in. My father once said, "Get the bad news over with first. You be the one to say the tough stuff." Well, here goes. There is a cruel wind blowing through our business. We all feel it, and if we don't, perhaps we've forgotten how to feel. But here is the truth. We are less ourselves than we were when we started this organization.
Sports Management International began as a small company. I was hired by Jack Scully in 1981, I was fresh out of college, I didn't even watch much sports. But a young man came to me, and his name was Bill Apodaca. He asked me to look at a contract he'd acquired to play football for the Atlanta Falcons. Before long I was overseeing the business of another member of the Falcons, and two baseball players. The nuances and the small miracles of professional sports would soon hook me - there was something simple and perfect about the way a stadium felt. The way you felt when a player you'd helped and represented made his stand in front of 54,000 people. And I remember the conversation Mr. Scully and I had by an elevator, standing next to one of those sand-filled ashtray posts, right before he hired me as one of the first agents in this company. "You and I are blessed, he said, "we do something that we love."
Tonight, I find those words guiding me back to an important place, and an important truth. I care very much about the fact that I have learned to care less. Now our company is one of the top three in this business, and we represent over a thousand athletes. Over sixty agents work at our huge new office, and I still haven't met all of you. The business of sports has never been bigger, or tougher, or more written about. And we are at the forefront. But I wonder tonight, as we leave our 13th annual conference ... we've talked a lot and partied a lot over the last three days, but I dare say that not one of us, our diet Pepsis and sheaf of papers in hand, have said what we really think.
It is beyond the easy arguments waged against sports, and our business on the editorial pages of the New York Times. It is beyond the huge salaries, the endorsements all our clients now want because "I'm a better actor than Michael Jordan." Beyond the globalization and merchandization of the games. It's more subtle than the baseball strike, more about loyalty than the Colts moving to Indiana, the Rams going to St. Louis, or the Cleveland Browns moving to ... someplace. I'm talking about something they don't write about. I'm talking about something we don't talk about.
We are losing our battle with all that is personal and real about our business. Every day I can look at a list of phone calls only partially returned. Driving home, I think of what was not accomplished, instead of what was accomplished. The gnawing feeling continues. That families are sitting waiting for a call from us, waiting to hear the word on a contract, or a General Manager's thoughts on an upcoming season. We are pushing numbers around, doing our best, but is there any real satisfaction in success without pride? Is there any real satisfaction in a success that exists only when we push the messiness of real human contact from our lives and minds? When we learn not to care enough about the very guy we promised the world to, just to get him to sign. Or to let it bother us that a hockey player's son is worried about his dad getting that fifth concussion.
There is a good bet that I will erase all of this from my laptop, and you will never read it. But if you are reading it, and you're reading it right now, it is only because I was unable to stop. I was unable to forget the quiet questions in the hallways, when some of you, usually the younger agents, or interns, asked me on the side: "How do you keep all these lives, all these clients, separated in your mind?"
Chances are, I didn't say much. I might have told you "it's easy," or, "you're not working hard enough." Chances are, I said something that you expected, maybe even wanted to hear. But it wasn't the truth, and it wasn't what I felt. And if you ever wondered about the drawbacks of being quiet about important things, talk to yourself in the mirror some time, say the truth. Yell the truth to yourself, when no one is listening. See how good it feels?
My father worked for the United Way for 38 years. We lived in San Diego for many years, before I left to move up the coast to Los Angeles. One of the things my father said was: "Every time you allow a problem in your life, you are actually at a point of transformation. Crisis is a powerful point of transformation." (Never mind that he sat at the same chair for 38 years, and when he retired said only that he'd wished he'd asked for a more comfortable place to sit.)
We are now at a point of transformation with this company. But this is not something to fear, it is something to celebrate. Because I come to you tonight, looking out at the dark Miami skyline, not only with a challenge. I come to you with answers too.
But first let us define our position.
Right now we are a breaking point with our client list. We are not so huge that we must hire more agents, and not so small that we have not experienced huge success. We are at a point of neutrality. We are all, right now, neutral. Neutral, as in not black or white. Not bad or good. Even. neutral.
Even in my own life, after 35 years, I feel that I have never done that one thing, that noble thing that defines a life. Even writing this Mission Statement is odd for me. I am used to flying below the radar, enjoying my life and friends. But I have not been truly tested. I have not gone to India to explore my life, as my brother has. I have not been in a major car accident, or fathered a child. I have not created a life, nor have I killed anyone. I am neutral. I haven't started a war and I haven't stopped a war. I have broken even with my life. I have a nice home, a nice car, a fiancee who makes my heart race. But I have not taken that step, or risk, that makes the air I have breathed for 35 years worthwhile. I once had a yellow couch. I got rid of it because it was neutral. My life is now like that yellow couch.
And yet, as I sit here in the wonderful Miami Hilton, I have never been so happy to be alive. I have said "later" to most anything that required true sacrifice. Later I will spend a weekend reading real books, not just magazines. Later I will visit my grandmother who is 100 and unable to really know the difference. Later I will visit the clients whose careers are over, but of course I promised to stay in touch. Later later later later. It is too easy to say "later" because we all believe our work to be too important to stop, minute to minute, for something that might interfere with the restless and relentless pursuit of forward motion. Of greater success. Make no mistake, I am a huge fan of success. But tonight, I propose a better kind of success. I could be wrong, but if you keep reading and I keep writing, we might get there together.