“It’s exciting to be walking in your purpose at 30,” which is why Nicole Lynn knew she had to leave Wall Street for the University of Oklahoma College of Law, where in two-and-a-half years she earned a degree that would equip her desires to service the individuals who risk it all – health, body, mental equilibrium, time and family – for the love of the game. Born in Wisconsin and bred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Lynn recognized early on the need to give back to athletes, help them cope with life after football and ensure the longevity of their dollars.
“Seventy percent of all football players go broke or file bankruptcy — like 75 percent, which is crazy. We’ve got guys making $100 million and they go broke. That’s the reason I got in the business. It was not for money. I’m an attorney and I do well as an attorney,” Nicole Lynn, a chief agent at Young Money APAA Sports, explained over the phone as she geared up for the physically arduous, week-long odyssey that is the NFL combine and the “biggest interview of their life.”
However ambitious and tenacious her pursuit, Nicole’s pedigree has been the target of wide suspicion around the world of sports. Not only is she considered incredibly young for the business, Nicole Lynn is more and more the subject of idle talk from the traditionally white, senior male lineage of sports agents that have long been the beneficiaries of first draft picks. Let small men tell it, and Nicole doesn’t bear the grit or know-how to make it to the big time.
But one man knew good and well that Nicole Lynn was made from the stuff of legend: Quinnen Williams, 21, an authoritative vehicle on the field who finished his senior season at the University of Alabama with 71 tackles and eight sacks and who hand-picked Nicole Lynn as his legal representative.
“Young Money APAA Sports as an organization has attained what we’ve been working diligently towards for the past few years,” Jermaine "Mack Maine" Preyan, president of Young Money, told BET in regard to the gravity of their current stake in sports. “Either way, we’re proud of our team and all of our players that will hear their names called this year.”
While Williams and the whole Young Money camp ready themselves for the 2019 NFL Draft, Lynn plots her best move yet, potentially becoming the first Black woman to acquire the No. 1 overall 2019 NFL draft pick. Here she discusses coming up as both a full-time lawyer and sports agent, the power of failure, and her partnership with rap veteran Lil Wayne. Get acquainted.
BET: How did someone as young as you get started in this industry?
Nicole Lynn: Before I became an agent, I worked on Wall Street. I initially thought I wanted to be a financial adviser for athletes. And while I was on Wall Street, I learned very quickly that the financial adviser is not the person that really does the day-to-day for the player, it’s the agent. So, I left Wall Street and went to law school and got my degree at the University of Oklahoma. I graduated law school a semester early, so I graduated in two-and-a-half years. I spent about eight months working at the NFL Players Association in Washington, D.C.
BET: What’s the NFL Players Association?
Nicole Lynn: The NFL Players Association is the union that basically represents the players. So I did that before I got certified. I really wanted to learn about benefits, life after football, and so forth. I wanted to find a way, before I became an agent, to separate myself from the agents. While I was there, I took the agent exam and got certified. I ended up getting hired, at the time, at what was the Players Rep Sports agency.
BET: Which is?
Nicole Lynn: It’s a top ten sports agency in the country. They have about 60 NFL players. So, a really good agency, and I’ve been working with those same guys ever since.
BET: How did you become involved with Young Money?
Nicole Lynn: Last year, Lil Wayne purchased our agency. So pretty much me, the other agents and players moved over to Young Money APAA Sports. It gave us an opportunity to provide different marketing opportunities for our players. Like the name just did something different, so that was awesome. Been working with Lil Wayne — it’s been a little over a year.
BET: As an agent, do you practice law?
Nicole Lynn: I practice law full time. I work at an international law firm in Houston. I have two full-time jobs, unfortunately. That’s been kind of nuts. I’ve been doing both for about four years, and so I think eventually I’m going to have to figure that out. That’s kind of that. I mostly do football players; 99 percent of my clientele is football players.
BET: What about players in other sports?
Nicole Lynn: I also represent some baseball players. I have the last two No. 1 picks overall for softball. I also represent that Lay Lay. I don’t know if you know the little rapper girl that’s 11. So, in a managerial way, I represent her as an attorney and as management. And then I have a ballet dancer at American Ballet Theater that I rep. So, mostly football, but a couple here and there that are different.
BET: Tell me about Quinnen Williams and the No. 1 overall draft pick.
Nicole Lynn: So, yes, that’s confirmed. In the analytics program, that basically ranks players with the most accuracy for the NFL, at the end of the season he became the No. 1 player in college football. It’s a big deal for a defensive lineman. So, pretty much, he’s ranked No. 1, so he is said to go No. 1 overall. He may go two or three, but he will go somewhere in that. He’s the best player in the draft, so it's all going to come down to what the team needs. Do they need a defensive lineman, or do they need a quarterback? But yes, he’s ranked the No. 1 player in college football and should go No. 1. If not, he’ll go one, two, or three. There hasn’t been a Black woman with a first rounder, period, which is like the top 30 picks, and there definitely has not been one with a top five pick.
BET: So no matter what happens, you’re still making history?
Nicole Lynn: One hundred percent. It’s a huge deal. If he’s No. 1 or No. 7, it’s still making history.
BET: It’s crazy that in 2019 that lack of representation still exists, and in the NFL no less.
Nicole Lynn: What you’ll learn is that 90 percent of all NFL players are represented by 10 percent of agents that are certified. Meaning, it’s the same guys that have the No. 1 and No. 2 pick every year. That’s how it is. There are 900 certified agents; only one percent are women. Just one percent, and there are only three of us that are Black women out of 900, which is crazy. The other women don’t really have a clientele. They have one or two guys. It’s just different. And so, people are excited. I just turned 30 this year, and so there’s a lot of talk about that, too.
BET: Wow, the embodiment of young, gifted and Black. Tell me a little bit about how you met Quinnen Williams and your relationship with him.
Nicole Lynn: First of all, he’s like the sweetest kid in the entire world. He interviewed with the top 10 agents in the business or more, top 10, top 20. Every agent in the country recruited him. But he found me. He was doing research on agents and one of the articles written about me had come up, with a speech about my upbringing. In that speech, I talk about how I was dissed by this player who I waited in the rain for because he took one look at me and started laughing. I used it as a way to say, "Hey, everybody’s going to lose. You got to get comfortable with losing, and now I’ve got 22-plus clients and look at me now." It was a motivational speech. He found that speech, and that part of it is was what really hit home for him.
BET: Nice! How rare is that?
Nicole Lynn: Never in a million years do you get a player this way. But he was like, "Yeah, I saw that you were waiting in the rain for this kid, and he didn’t pick you." He was like, "I want an agent that’s going to go hard for me like that every single day." He knew I didn’t have a first rounder. I’ve never had a first rounder. What I love so much is that he was like, "You’re going to help me out, but I also want to help you out." And it’s just so rare to see men to say, "Look, I have power."
He has power as a No. 1 pick to make a change. "Every year, there’s a first rounder. There’s a No. 1 overall pick, but I want to be a No. 1 overall pick that makes history. I want to do something different by the power that I have." This is what the kid told me. "So you’re going to help me, and I’m going to help you, and we’re going to make a change." We talked about Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, all these firsts, and he was like, "We’re going to do this together. We’re going to make history and make change in sports for women." Just super powerful.
BET: Very dope. And he’s mad young. Like 21, right?
Nicole Lynn: He just turned 21 in December [of 2018]!
BET: What are some of the risks you’ve taken?
Nicole Lynn: Young Money. Their brand is new to sports, and so that’s stepping out on a limb. To say I’m going to go with this newer agency. The agents that I recruited against, again, they’ve been in the business for 40 years. I mean, it was almost a joke to them. But [Quinnen Williams] didn’t care. Every time you talk to him, he’s like, "My agent’s a beast, she’s the beast."
BET: Quinnen Williams was born and raised where?
Nicole Lynn: Birmingham, Alabama. Quinnen lost his mom at the age of 12 to breast cancer and there’s… I think there’s another aspect of wanting to give back to women. He lost his mom. She had beat breast cancer the first time. Had it again. They thought she would beat it. I mean, it was very abrupt. He was super close with his mom, and so I think there’s a part of him giving back to the woman.
BET: What is your relationship with Lil Wayne and the CEOs of Young Money?
Nicole Lynn: We have a really good relationship. I am very close with Mack Maine and Cortez [Bryant]. Those two are always doing things to push me and to kind of get my name out there. They’re very proud of me, and anything they can do to let people know what I’m doing, they are always trying to accomplish that.
Lil Wayne is so great to work with, because he has the same goals in mind for athletes that I do. The reason why I got in the business is to give back to athletes and to help them transition out of football. Seventy percent of all football players go broke or file bankruptcy. Like 75 percent, which is crazy. We’ve got guys making $100 million and they go broke. That’s the reason I got in the business. It was not for money. I’m an attorney and I do well as an attorney. Lil Wayne does not need the little percentage off these contracts. He had a purpose, so our missions aligned. And that is what has been so powerful. His reason was solely that. Nothing to do with money. Just to be great.
BET: And it’s not like the big money comes right away, right?
Nicole Lynn: There’s not a lot of money in this in the beginning. It takes a lot of money to make money as an agent. [Lil Wayne] is doing it for a bigger purpose. But yeah, all three of them have been so amazing. They’ve also been very differential in that they know that they are not the experts. And I really appreciate that. Very much "Nicole, what do you think that we should do?" Years ago, Master P got in the business, and it went bad. The difference is, Lil Wayne stays in his lane. Lil Wayne knows he’s not a sports agent, so he does what he knows and doesn’t touch the other stuff. I think that’s why this dynamic is going to work so well going forward.
Photos: Farran Manuel, courtesy of Young Money APAA Sports