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Alumnus works dream job as sports agent

Vicky Jacobsen | Wednesday, November 28, 2012

When Brian Murphy first told his parents that he had landed his dream job as a sports agent, they weren’t entirely impressed.

“That’s what my parents said when I moved to California when I was going to become a sports agent, they were like, ‘Oh, disgusting,'” Murphy, a 1992 graduate of the University, said. “They didn’t really have a good view of it, and I think in general sports agents don’t have the greatest reputation.”

So when Murphy and his partners – including Mark Humenik, his roommate from his days as a Flanner Hall resident – founded their own firm, Athletes First, in 2001, they knew they wanted to turn the image of the greedy sports agent on its head.

Instead of thinking exclusively about money, they agreed that family and community involvement played a huge role in their lives – and they had a hunch that there were plenty of NFL players who would feel the same way.

“When we started the company, a lot of people laughed at us and mocked us and said 21-year-old kids coming out of college don’t want to hear about personal relationships and giving back to the community, they want to hear about multi-million dollar contracts and guaranteed money and marketing deals,” Murphy said. “We thought that was probably not all that accurate, and I think we gave the kids coming out of college a lot more credit than maybe they’d received up to then.”

Just more than a decade later, Athletes First represents 124 athletes, most of them NFL players, and 18 coaches, including stars like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

Murphy, who serves as the company’s president, said Athletes First was intentionally designed to be an all-encompassing organization, just as his education at Notre Dame had been.

“It’s an all-around experience, and so we don’t want our clients to just look at us as negotiating contracts or doing marketing deals or providing concierge service,” Murphy said. “We really want to be an integral part of their lives, so get to know the client, get to know their family and extended family really well, and really do whatever they need done in their life, whether it’s helping them move from South Bend to Arizona like Michael Floyd this year, or helping them buy a house or automobiles or plan vacations or whatnot.

“We really want them to rely upon us to do everything for them so they can go and play football, and when they’re not playing football they can do what’s important to them in life as opposed to worrying about the little stuff.”

For former Notre Dame player and current Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph, who was drafted in 2011, Athletes First played a huge role in aiding his transition to the NFL.

“They helped a ton, whether it was pre-draft process, just giving me updates as far as managing expectations of where I was going to end up going,” Rudolph said. “After I was drafted to Minnesota, they really helped me because we had the lockout, and we didn’t have any contact with the team, and so they were able to help me come up to Minnesota and find a place to move into once our season started. Normally that’s something that the team will do.”

Athletes First draws heavily from recent Notre Dame and USC graduates – they’ve signed every USC quarterback since Carson Palmer – and while the company’s location in California makes recruiting former Trojans very easy, former Notre Dame players say that the Irish connection and the family atmosphere of Athletes First aided their decision.

“I think the relationship that Murph and all the other people at Athletes First have with their clients is very family-oriented and family based,” Rudolph said. “They treat their clients like family, and I know for a lot of agents football is a business relationship, and I think our relationship is a family-oriented relationship as opposed to business-oriented.”

Another Athletes First client, Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith, who was drafted last spring after five seasons at Notre Dame, said he trusted Murphy as a friend, something that can’t be said of all agents. Both he and Rudolph said they talk to Murphy and other members of the 16-person staff at Athletes First as often as a few times a week.

They can confirm that Murphy’s commitment to family and community service aren’t just talk.

“My parents are welcome and feel free to call Murph at any time if they ever need anything,” Rudolph said. “He always answers and helps them out.”

This March, Murphy and several of his clients who are Notre Dame grads will travel to Africa with the Starkey Foundation to distribute hearing aids to people who would otherwise be unable to afford them.

“That’s not stuff you traditionally do with your sports agent and not traditionally a job you would think a sports agent does,” Murphy said. “But we’re constantly looking for ways to work with our clients to give back to the community, and I think we all become better doing that.”

Contact Vicky Jacobsen at vjacobse@nd.edu.