Nicole Lynn sits in her Houston office, answering questions from a reporter on an afternoon when, surprisingly, she’s got time.
That has been a rarity for her these days.
Lynn made headlines in April becoming the first black female agent to represent a top-five NFL Draft pick, when the New York Jets selected defensive tackle Quinnen Williams.
He’s one of nearly two dozen clients Lynn represents while working for rapper Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money APAA Sports agency.
After graduating with two degrees from the University of Oklahoma, Lynn signed her first client at age 26 and now represents athletes and entertainers. Among them are OU assistant football coach Chip Viney, former Sooner softball star Lauren Chamberlain and former football players Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Jordan Evans.
She’s also a full-time attorney practicing civil litigation with Norton Rose Fulbright in Houston.
At 30 years old, Lynn’s mastered the art of budgeting her time. But her work as an agent remains focused on signing athletes and helping them budget money.
Signing bonuses and contracts are larger than ever, but a 2018 report from Boston Private Wealth highlights a negative trend — 60 percent of NBA players have exhausted their pay within five years of leaving the league, and in the NFL, 78 percent were bankrupt or severely cash-strapped two years after ending their careers.
There’s a niche in the sports agency market for that service, Lynn says, but it’s more than just a business strategy. She wants to help.
“Some of the biggest issues of athletes and their money is their family members,” Lynn said. “Over and over I find that family members are the biggest drain on an athlete. Moms and dads are trying to quit their jobs and live off of the one income that the athlete has, and I find it’s not typically jewelry and cars and big houses, but it’s supporting family, because they feel like that’s what they’re supposed to do.
“I saw a lot of players grow up from the same neighborhoods I did, and they never really made it out. They temporarily made it out.”
Lynn overcame poverty and tragedy growing up in north Tulsa. Her brother, Vincent Ajeh, was murdered in 2012. Lynn estimates she attended 11 funerals during her junior year at Booker T. Washington.
She credits a high school counselor for encouraging her to attend college in-state, where the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program would provide free tuition and other costs because her parents earned less than $55,000 combined annually.
“I knew that education was my way out,” Lynn said. “I definitely stayed out.”
Landing Williams put into focus Lynn’s rise in the industry. She still refers to that moment as her big break.
The former Alabama star became interested after watching a speech Lynn gave while accepting the 2018 Salesforce Woman of the Year Award.
“In my speech, I talked about my first time recruiting a player and that player ignoring me,” Lynn said. “There was a whole dramatic story about how I was standing in the rain waiting for the player, and he totally dissed me. Somehow Quinnen found that speech, and he said I want an agent that’s gonna go that hard for me every single day.”
Keeping Williams financially healthy well beyond his NFL career, and doing the same for others, remains her strategy moving forward.
“The NFL career lasts typically only three years,” she said. “That’s an average player. I’m constantly reminding my players and setting themselves up for success after the game. And I don’t know that many agents take that as serious as I do.”