Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Growing up in Tulsa in the 1990s, Nicole Lynn loved being a part of sports and the community it provided. For Lynn, it was cheerleading and rugby. It wasn't until she attended the University of Oklahoma to pursue a bachelors degree in business management that she realized she wanted to work with athletes in a professional capacity. The driving force behind Lynn's decision to become a sports agent came from observing the journeys of her athlete friends—from humble beginnings to playing college sports, being drafted, hiring an agent, and managing their professional careers.
Lynn noticed a pattern of many athletes making it to the NFL, a career in which players average only 3.3 years in the league instead of thriving in longer pro careers. Unfortunately, pro-athletes mismanaging finances during their heyday and struggling in retirement is not an uncommon narrative: Roughly 78% of former NFL players report financial distress within two years of retirement. Witnessing the drastic highs and lows of the industry up close through her friends, Lynn decided she was going to do everything she could to be a catalyst for changing the trajectory for NFL athletes. Initially, she thought the key was financial literacy and embarked on a journey to become a financial advisor. Armed with her business degree, Lynn headed to New York City, where she worked on Wall Street in preparation for her new career.
“I was preparing to be a financial advisor and then learned through other financial advisors that represented athletes,” she says. “What they do is mostly portfolio management. It's like, ‘Give me all your big bulk of money, and I will manage it in the stock market.’ I felt like the change that was needed was shifting the mindset about money.”
It wasn't long before she realized that pro athletes needed more in-depth conversations and guidance to be financially successful and fiscally responsible. But whose job was it to educate and guide, if not the financial advisor? The sports agent, she thought.
When it comes to the role of the sports agent, many likely think of contract negotiations and seven-figure endorsement deals on behalf of the athlete. In the traditional sense, they'd be correct, but for Lynn, that's just where her responsibilities begin.
“I'd say the job of an agent is to negotiate a contract for a player, get them on a team,” Lynn says. “That is it. That is what we are paid to do. I'm passionate about teaching financial literacy, teaching ‘adulting’ skills, and really getting these guys across the finish line, and in and out of a career in the NFL into the rest of their lives.”
Breaking into the sports agent space was no easy feat. According to Lynn, 90% of all players in the NFL are represented by just 10% of sports agents, known as ‘superagents’ for their extensive roster of athletes. In 2015, she became the first female agent to represent the top NFL agency, PlayersRep—acquired by Young Money APAA Sports Agency in 2017. It was there that seasoned agent Ken Sarnoff recognized her drive and determination by taking her under his wing as a mentee. Through this mentorship, Lynn learned the ins and outs of the industry and discovered the unique perspective she brought to the table.
Lynn is quick to point out that while there isn't an overwhelming number of Black women in her industry, others are fighting the good fight and making a name for themselves. She is anxiously looking forward to the day when women excelling and advancing in the industry is the norm.
For seven years, Lynn, who also holds a Doctor of Law degree from the University of Oklahoma, worked as both a sports agent and a full-time attorney at a large international law firm, so proving her credibility in two male-dominated industries became par for the course. She built up her client roster, representing a plethora of talented young athletes. Even with the roadblocks and challenges of being a Black woman sports agent, Lynn has garnered a surprising number of allies in other agents, general managers, and clients.
In 2019, Lynn represented the No. 3 pick of the NFL draft, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams for the New York Jets and the highest draft pick to be repped by a Black woman. With her determination to succeed—driven by her desire to make a long term measurable impact for the friends she came up with and all of her clients—it's no surprise how quickly she rose to the top. As did her desire to lend a helping hand to other women in the industry along the way.
Lynn is all too aware of the lack of proper representation and compensation for female athletes and coaches, so when it comes to representing women, Lynn's primary goal isn't a monetary one, it's about elevating and uplifting them. She is so dedicated to correcting the gender representation disparities, that she often represents women free of charge. Although most of her clients are NFL players, Lynn also represents a number of female athletes, coaches, and analysts, including Jennifer King, the Washington Commanders’ assistant running backs coach.
In 2021, Lynn joined Klutch Sports Group as president of football operations with all of her clients in tow, as well as penning the book Agent You, in which she shared the blueprint to her personal success with the world. Lynn emphasizes the importance of taking risks and reminds her readers—in addition to having a killer work ethic and determination—to not discount the sacrifice and missteps in their personal and professional lives, but to view them as stepping stones and learning opportunities on the road to success.
At just 33 years old, it's indisputable that Nicole Lynn has built two impressive careers for herself. So what's next for the goal-getter? She is prioritizing her marriage and physical and mental health by focusing on being present and living in the moment.
“My goals are getting physically fit right now,” Lynn says. “Taking care of myself and making sure my mental health is 100%. These are things that, over the last decade, I have just put on the wayside. This is ‘me’ season. I’m going to make sure my clients are good, but I have to make sure I’m good.”
Danielle Bryant is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.