Real Winners

A TV documentary tries to portray football agents as the heroes they’re not

Illustration: Brandon Celi

The work of an NFL agent doesn’t cry out to be watched. They are contract lawyers whose contracts aren’t very interesting, because the league and players union negotiate the important terms. They shuffle among hotel rooms, stadium tunnels, and steakhouse banquets with cell phones as their most constant companions. And yet they keep finding their way into pop culture. Jerry Maguire proved there was an appetite for them in 1996; that same year, HBO debuted Arli$$, a comedy about a less cuddly Maguire.

In June, HBO went back to the well with Ballers, a series from the creators of Entourage. The half-hour dramedy stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Spencer Strasmore, a former NFL linebacker selling his services as a financial adviser to athletes. Spencer is agent-adjacent. He leaves the paperwork to his former agent while he tells players to “grow up,” “wise the f--- up,” and lease anything that “drives, flies, floats, or f---s.” Because this is Sunday night on HBO (and essentially Entourage rebooted), the straight talk is mostly an excuse to show off bad behavior. Bathroom sex with bottle-service girls, yacht parties, painkillers popped before hard looks in the mirror—it’s all here.

No such things happen in The Agent, a documentary series from the Esquire Network that premiered on Aug. 11. The show acts as a foil to Ballers’ glitz. The closest thing to hedonism in the first four episodes is a nice dinner out in Cincinnati. The series follows four NFL agents—Jeff Guerriero, Peter Schaffer, Sunny Shah, and Ed Wasielewski—as they recruit clients. “Before you get to play on Sundays,” says the voice-over lead-in, “before the fame, the fortune, the endorsements … you need the agent.”

It’s the same premise that’s fueled two decades of reality TV: Just film the boring bits of any seemingly glamorous life. Americans have proved by now they’ll watch anything—kitchen work, apartment hunting, sitting on couches—as long as there’s someone to hate. But The Agent doesn’t even offer petty villains. It’s just four dudes working.

The opening shot shows Schaffer on his treadmill at home, going nowhere. We also see agents playing golf, making calls, watching TV, and ordering dinner. In between, they offer plenty of bromides. They’ve had to work extremely hard to get where they are. Players need the best possible team behind them. The job is up one day and down the next. And so on.

Although the network’s boilerplate calls them “four top real-life Jerry Maguire sports agents,” the stars actually range from mid- to bottom-level. True power players—Tom Condon, Drew Rosenhaus, or Ben Dogra—would never open their doors for a smallish cable network. This turns out to be the show’s salvation, because these lesser agents are surprisingly open.

The real draw is Wasielewski, the world’s least likely NFL agent—entirely lacking in swagger and fast talk. His bro-hugs and patter are always just a little off, yet it’s impossible not to root for him as he chases players most big agencies don’t want. “I am a 41-year-old man recruiting a 21-year-old man,” he explains in one scene. “I’m waiting, literally thinking, like, I hope he texts me back.” At one point, when a recruit calls to reject him, Wasielewski’s sitting at home in a red hoodie. It looks like a hostage video.

Just when this humiliation begins to seem cruel, there’s some relief. Joey Mbu, a less coveted recruit, decides to sign with him. “He’s corny,” Mbu explains to the camera, “but he accepts his flaws, and that’s something I’m pretty good at doing, too.” After Wasielewski leaves, Mbu does his own cheesy dance for the cameras. All of football probably won’t produce a more innocent TV moment this season.

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