Joe Barkett likes the word “hustle.”
Not the pool shark kind of hustle. Or even the gritty, undersized second baseman kind of hustle. For the co-founder of Empire Athletes,based in Santa Monica, hustling means working hard and working often.
Barkett has been hustling a lot these days.
Empire signed former Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam on Feb. 7, and two days later Sam announced that he is gay. Sam, who could become the first openly gay player to play a down in the NFL, has since become somewhat of a sensation. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle have tweeted at him, he received a standing ovation at a Missouri basketball game and a line of more than a thousand supporters stood in opposition of Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of Sam’s sexuality.
Needless to say, Barkett and co-founder Cameron Weiss are happy to have Sam on their team.
But Empire wasn’t Sam’s first choice. On Jan. 7, four days after Missouri’s win at the Cotton Bowl, Sam signed with Jeff Sperbeck of The Novo Agency. Three days later, Barkett received a phone call from Sam.
“I thought it was a butt-dial, honestly,” Barkett said in a Forbes article. “He said, ‘Joe I made a big mistake. I signed with somebody who I don’t think really understands what my case is, and he won’t be able to hustle for me as I will require.’”
An NFL Players Association rule prevents rookies from signing with a different agent until 30 days after signing with the original agent. On Feb. 7, once 30 days had passed, Sam signed with Empire.
If Sam makes an active roster in the NFL, he won’t just be the first openly gay player to do so. He’ll also be the first active player represented by Empire Athletes.
The agency, founded in 2012, represented Wendell Lewis who was a member of the Minnesota Vikings’ and Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squads last season.
Before starting Empire Athletes, Barkett worked for Leigh Steinberg Enterprises and Weiss worked at Vantage Management. Both also worked in the front office of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Barkett said they’ve seen an increased interest from players following Sam’s announcement.
Barkett professes that he is "willing to hustle" for Sam and any other clients he secures. Coincidentally , it is Sam's hustle, as a slightly undersized defensive lineman, that close football observers cite most for his increased on-field production in 2013.
Supervising editor is Mark Selig.