Meet One Rare Female Sports Agent Scoring Big at Lil Wayne’s Side Hustle

Women make up less than 5 percent of the 800 sports agents registered with the NFL Players Association

quinnen williams nfl mobile
NFL prospect Quinnen Williams with sports agent Nicole Lynn. / Photo courtesy of Nicole Lynn

In 2017, out of the 224 people who took the agent certification exam administered by the NFL Players Association, 33 were women—the highest number since the exam commenced in 2001. In 2005, some female test takers couldn’t recall seeing any other women taking the test. And just last year, women were estimated to make up less than 5 percent of the 800 sports agents registered with the NFL Players Association.

Simply existing as a woman in the sports agency world is historic. One of those pioneers is Nicole Lynn, who wants to do more than just exist in history. She’s on the precipice of making it.

At this year’s NFL draft, the 30-year-old sports agent’s client Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle for the Alabama Crimson Tide, is projected to be a top five draft pick. That would make Lynn the first black female sports agent with a client drafted that high. But more important to Lynn than making history is making sure her clients have a life after the game is over.

“While [attending the University of Oklahoma], I became friends with a lot of athletes. I watched those athletes go from rags to riches when they got drafted by the NFL and then back to rags when [their time with] the NFL was over,” Lynn told ONE37pm. “I noticed they couldn’t retain their wealth, so I wanted to find a way to help them make as seamless a transition out of the NFL as they had when they went into the NFL.”

In 2015, she became the first female agent at agency PlayersRep, which was acquired by Lil Wayne’s Young Money APAA Sports in 2017. Lynn spoke with ONE37pm about the influence of Lil Wayne’s name in the sports world, the struggles and benefits of being a female sports agent and how one day wearing braids to the NFL Scouting Combine will be a sign she’s truly broken barriers.

You became an agent in 2015 at the age of 26. What early struggles did you experience getting clients that really show how far you’ve come? 

Nicole Lynn: In my first year as a sports agent, I tried to recruit several players. The way you recruit players is by trying to get their phone numbers, texting them, calling them, sliding into their DMs on social media. If none of those things work, you really can just show up at their football games. So on my birthday, I drove six hours one way, and six hours back, to a football game to watch a player. I get to the game and I’m standing outside waiting for the game to end. I’m hoping this guy will come out and I can talk to him. Then it starts raining. I have mascara running down my face and my hair is poofing up. I’m a black girl, so black girl problems.

I’m wearing heels because I wear heels all the time, but this was a rookie mistake. So my heels are starting to sink in the mud. It’s a whole situation. The guy comes out, I look a mess, but I still go up to him and say, “Hi, my name’s Nicole Lynn. I’m an agent. I’d love to speak with you.” He really just dissed me. Honestly, he dissed me completely. He kind of laughed and thought it was a joke, because there aren’t a lot of women in my business. At that point, I was only 26 years old, so he probably thought of me as a peer. It was a traumatic situation. But I persevered. Several years later, I’m doing OK and there are no more rainy, muddy heel stories.

nicole lynn in article
Courtesy of Nicole Lynn

You’re doing better than OK. Your client Quinnen Williams is projected to be a top five pick in this year’s NFL draft. That would make you the first black female sports agent to have a top 5 pick in the NFL draft. What did Quinnen tell you about why he chose to go with you?

Lynn: About a year ago, I won 2X Woman of the Year. I had to give a speech, and my speech was about the concept of losing, how all winners lose and that story of me standing in the rain trying to recruit a player. Somehow, Quinnen got his hands on that video. I absolutely didn’t send it to him and don’t know if any of my players have seen it. That story really touched him. He told me when I met him that it played a huge role in his signing me because he wanted an agent that would go hard for him at that level on any day.

He also knew that I, like any black woman, had never had a top five pick [in the NFL draft]. He wanted to make a change for women. He said, “You can help me and I can help you. There’s going to be 50 other No. 1 overall picks, and 50 No. 2 overall picks, in the next 50 years. I can go down as a No. 1 or No. 2 pick and that’s it. Or I could go down by making history.” So I think he saw a way to use his platform to help women, and I am so grateful for that.

That’s one way being a woman helped you in your sports agent career. Are there things you have to keep in mind as a woman that you feel the average male sports agent never has to?

Lynn: There are a lot of things I have to keep in mind that are different, like the way I’m dressed. I have to think about what I’m wearing, if my heels are too high, if my lipstick is too red or if what I’m wearing is too sexy. There’s a balance there. I still want to be feminine, that’s super important to me. But I have to balance what I’m wearing. My [male] peers don’t have to think about that. When I’m going to the combine and I want to network with general managers at the NFL, I can’t take them out to dinner like my peers can. I have to find unique ways to get one-on-one time with them without it being inappropriate. Usually, I do coffee. Coffee during the day, to me, is benign. That’s kind of the way I navigate it. But I don’t get much one-on-one time with these guys, because I can’t. So there are a lot of different hoops I have to jump through that make my job a lot more difficult being a woman.

Lil Wayne very much cares about the players. He’s not in it for the money. He’s in it to effectuate change. We have always been the same way.

- Nicole Lynn

You’re not just a woman, you’re a black woman. Have you ever had to pick your battles and brush off any hint of racism? Or are you in-your-face with people about that?

Lynn: There are definitely battles I have to pick in this business. For me, it’s really important to be my authentic self. I think as a trailblazer or pioneer if I’m not authentic in who I am, then the people who come behind me will never be able to be. So there’s a line of professionalism and a line of still being who I am. There are certain things that may sound stupid, like braids. As a black girl, I want to wear braids. I still have never worn braids in front of a client. I still have never worn braids at the NFL Combine. I’m not there yet. I still have an act of “covering.” Covering is when you hide something about yourself to conform to dominant culture. I try my hardest not to cover, but there’s still 5 percent of me that does that. So those are some of the things I still struggle with and battles I have to deal with every single day.

You started at PlayersRep before it was acquired by Young Money APAA Sports. How has that transition been and have there been any noticeable changes?

Lynn: I joined the PlayersRep agency right when I became certified, and then Lil Wayne purchased our agency a little more than a year ago. So I still work with the same agents and operations people since I got into the business. My day-to-day hasn’t changed. The only part that’s different is we have a lot more ability to get into the room with companies, whether it’s for marketing or just opportunities for our players. So the brand of Lil Wayne and Young Money has been very helpful. But our day-to-day and doing contract negotiations hasn’t changed.

So no players signed because it’s Lil Wayne’s agency or because they want to meet him?

Lynn: They don’t say that. I’m sure there are players that we got in the room just because of the name. At the end of the day, when we’re interviewing these players, they understand the agent is who they’re going to talk to every day. They’re not going to talk to Lil Wayne. So if they don’t like me or they don’t like any of our other agents, I think they get that they may not want to sign for us.

Over the past year, has Lil Wayne or someone from Young Money spoken about their goals and visions for the agency?

Lynn: Yeah, absolutely. When we merged our companies, we definitely had team meetings where we could talk about the plans and trajectories for the business. Lil Wayne very much cares about the players. He’s not in it for the money. He’s in it to effectuate change. We have always been the same way. It’s been super great because we’ve been on the same page. It’s really hard to do something powerful when everyone in the organization isn’t on the same page.

Once I sign a player, I get very close with them, their family, immediate and otherwise. I’m at their baby showers, weddings and any life events. They’re really just an extension of my family.

- Nicole Lynn

Is there any truth to how sports agents are portrayed on TV shows like HBO’s Ballers?

Lynn: I don’t watch Ballers, but I can imagine it’s mostly false. Usually, when you have anything that depicts an agent’s life, it’s a sexy depiction—the agent’s at the club balling out with their players. But in reality, our lives are a ton of work and a lot of stress. It’s a very emotional job. You’re there for the exciting parts of your player’s career, like them getting drafted. You’re also there in the moment when you have to tell them they have to retire and it’s not by choice; it’s because no team is interested in them. It’s got a lot of ebbs and flows, and I don’t think TV can depict that.

What’s the most difficult conversation you’ve had or decision you’ve made with a player?

Lynn: There are a lot of tough decisions clients have to make, and I’m usually involved in those. Sometimes the more difficult ones involve injuries. For example, having a conversation with a player who really needs to walk away from the game because the type of injury he has can affect his life after football. Like a player who has had too many concussions. That’s a huge deal in that it can affect him for the rest of his lives. They want to be able to hold their babies when they get older. They want to be able to walk and live. Sometimes they have to walk away from the game. Those are really tough conversations to have.

You have to look at them as family almost.

Lynn: Exactly. They are family. Once I sign a player, I get very close with them, their family, immediate and otherwise. I’m at their baby showers, weddings and any life events. They’re really just an extension of my family.

That ensures a strong bond between you and your client, but it’s still business, and mixing business with personal life can be complicated at times. Have you ever had any complications?

Lynn: Yeah, I think it’s tough because I try to keep boundaries with my players. But I’m not great at that. I get very involved in their personal lives, marriages and situations like that. Then when the marriage doesn’t work out and I’m still close to their ex-wife, that’s where it’s tough, because I’m not just an agent, I become a friend and a family member. So those boundaries are extremely important and something I struggle with. I think it’s a strength and a weakness.

I absolutely think there are more women in the industry now than there were a decade ago. One of my mentors is a woman.

- Nicole Lynn

Quinnen Williams is more than likely going to be your first top five draft pick in the NFL draft. That could completely elevate you to a different level. You said you haven’t worn braids at professional outings because you’re not there yet. Do you think you’ll pop the braids out or fight back at certain conventions if and when Quinnen gets picked that high?

Lynn: You know, I think it would definitely help. I am fighting every day to be taken seriously and for credibility in general. So the more comfortable I am in my skin and the more I’ve proven myself, like anyone, the more I’d be comfortable being my full authentic self. I make jokes about one day nobody is going to be able to tell me nothing and I’m going to be at the NFL draft with plaited braids or faux locs. So I don’t know when that happens, but I know when you have a top five pick, it kind of pushes you over a bit.

Do you foresee an influx of more women becoming sports agents?

Lynn: I absolutely think there are more women in the industry now than there were a decade ago. One of my mentors is a woman. I remember she mentioned she’d be in a room and she was literally the only female agent. Now, I think out of 800 [agents] there are 13 female agents that have a client, which is not a lot and many of them literally only have one. But it is showing that we are growing.

I expect more women will get into the business of sports. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be in the agent position. I think it’s very difficult for women to balance with being a wife and mother because we’re on the road 100 to 150 days a year. That’s hard to do if you’re the main care provider for a kid. I think that immediately deters women from wanting to be in the business. Not all women.

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