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Lamar Jackson and his ‘momager’: Would you trust your parents to manage your career?

In my favorite movie “That Thing You Do!,” members of the 1960s rock band The Wonders have an affable manager named Phil who gets them radio airplay and a big show in Pittsburgh. But eventually Phil recognizes that he’s taken the boys, including broody lead singer Jimmy (Edgewood’s own Johnathon Schaech), as far as he can, and introduces them to a big-time manager named Mr. White (Tom Hanks), whose connections can take them to the top. They don’t stay there long, but he does get them there.

I am the Phil in terms of my 9-year-old’s burgeoning soccer career. Parents are really their kid’s first managers in that we decide if, when and where they will play, drive them around and launder their jerseys. But if my son is ever identified as a real talent, I’m going to hand him over to a Mr. White, because my coaching and sports management education is mostly from watching copious amounts of “Cobra Kai.” Sweep the leg. That’s all the expertise I’ve got.

Phil and Mr. White have been on my mind since Baltimore Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson announced his wish to be traded to another team. Jackson, 2019′s unanimous NFL MVP, has famously never had an agent, and his mother, Felicia Jones, has acted as his advisor.

Jones, like me, is a widowed mother who runs her household alone because she has to. She could be considered what’s known in entertainment as a “momager” — a parent who handles the business aspects of their children’s careers. (Think Kris Jenner or Matthew Knowles.) It seems more unusual at this level of team sports, though not unheard of: We’ve seen heavy parental involvements in sports like tennis, with the fathers of the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi and Jennifer Capriati looming large in their careers.

Commentators and pundits have pondered whether Jackson has hurt himself by not hiring a professional representative and having Jones in so prominent an official position. And while it hasn’t been officially confirmed that Jones is a part of her son’s latest negotiations, the speculation about who is leading the talks remains.

Has his mother taken him as far as she can go? I posed that question to three local experts: a family therapist, a veteran sports parent and a loyal Ravens fan.

Ravens QB Lamar Jackson’s trade request doesn’t mean a divorce is inevitable. Just ask Deebo Samuel.

“It seems like an extreme conflict of interest for you as a parent to then have a financial investment in whether this individual continues playing,” said Paige Lehr of St. Mary’s County, the mother of two star athlete daughters, one of whom is currently playing Division I NCAA soccer. “I would rather have them in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, who doesn’t have the emotional investment that I do, and who can make clear and competent decisions about them and what is best for their careers.”

She said she’s seen her share of sports parents who seem fixated with their kids’ potential futures, even at an age when they should be more concerned about “Paw Patrol” than going pro. “My youngest was very fast. I’ve had them ask, ‘What supplements do you give her? What do you feed her?’ And I was like ‘I don’t know. What do you feed your 8-year-old?’ I saw all of the madness, like giving little kids 5-Hour Energy drinks, parents with kindergarten kids sidling up to the coaches trying to finagle the best position for them. They get really crazy seeing dollar signs that don’t really exist.”

For therapist Jennifer McLeod, the question comes down to a conflict between your parent and agent roles. “Do I want to root for my kid because I love my kid or do I want to root for my kid because there’s money on the line?” she said. “When you’re coaching their Little League or peewee soccer team, that’s fine. But once they become professional enough to be earning money, that feels icky.”

Calvin Coates, our big Ravens fan and the co-host of the podcast “All Things Black,” said he’s been impressed with Jones, who has been Jackson’s “rep his whole life and she hasn’t failed him yet.” Coates does, however, agree that the kind of pushing you do when you love someone is different than when it’s business. “An agent may tell you what you need to hear. His mom may tell him what he wants to hear, and may not be objective,” he said.

Such involvement can vary. Coates brought up both NFL player Todd Marinovich, whose father Marv engineered his career since he was in utero and who is widely considered a disappointment, and the Ball brothers, whose father LaVar has been notoriously involved in his kids’ lives in professional basketball, but can still boast having two sons in the NBA and one playing in Europe. Ball “was their biggest advocate and it turns out that it worked out for the better,” Coates said.

The only issue with Jones’ tenure as her son’s advisor, Coates said, is Jackson’s lack of major endorsements — somethingwhere “maybe an agent could have come into play. He was the unanimous MVP! Where’s his Coke commercial? They’re leaving so much money on the table.”

That would be my biggest worry as a momager in any context: the fear that I would be in over my head and my advice might be wrong. Then again, isn’t that what parenting is? Helping our kids take on the world and fretting over whether we do too much, or not enough?

I know that Jones has done more than I could do for either my kid or myself. I’m an author and a relative nobody, and even I have two agents — one for literary purposes and one for film and television deals —because they’re better connected and equipped to make the best arrangements. I don’t know those worlds as well as they do, and I know even less about sports.

But I do know that I love my kid like I’m sure Jackson’s mom loves him. All you can do is do your best and hope it works out OK, whether it’s deciding on a weekly allowance or a multimillion-dollar contract.

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