ESPN Films: The Dotted Line (2011)

Directed by Morgan Spurlock

Sports are games at their very core. They are something almost every boy and girl grows up participating or at the very least watching in some form. Baseball has been the national pastime since the late 1880s, and many would argue that the pastime is now more football, but whichever way you swing it, sports are a major part of American society. And while they may ultimately be children’s games, they are also a business with loads of money to made. Each teams must run its organization to make the most money. At the end of the day winning championships usually brings in quite a bit of money, but only one team can win, the others have to keep their head above water and make a buck. Then there are the players who have to make theirs, and for that purpose we have the sports agent.

As the documentary points out, the sports agent has been parodied as being a slimy, greedy, detrimental figure in the sports world. But there are also films like Jerry Maguire, which paint the hopeful outlook of the diamond in the rough agent who is there to make a difference in the players livelihood instead of just make millions of dollars. Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold) takes a 50 minute journey into the sports agent world in an attempt to answer some important questions as to the relevancy, purpose and morality of the sports agent. To do so is an ambitious task, but one which is done succinctly enough to make a good introduction into these people behind the scenes.

One of the major strengths of the film is the gambit of examples which are provided. Spurlock spends time with an NFL, NBA, and MLB agent, giving each his equal due in explaining their significance and role in shaping the business and their clients. This variety is something the series to this point has overall not succeeded at in my opinion. And within these three leagues, Spurlock also delves into the role of the agent in effecting the lives of his (and yes it is his as there are no female agents in the film, and the role of gender is never discussed). In the case of the NBA, we see Michael Jordan’s agent retelling the story where he stood up against his own company for his client, and how he nearly single-handedly branded Air Jordan and brought millions of dollars into the pocket of Jordan from advertising deals. Peter Greenberg, the MLB agent is shown giving Venezuelan kids a chance to play in the big leagues and provide for their otherwise poor families.

The one exception might be the NFL agent, Eugene Lee, who is a young man who is recruiting players to represent in the upcoming NFL draft. He comes off as much more of a commodities broker with the single intent of making himself money. No offense to Lee, but his ability to woo the clients into signing deals was not fun to watch, especially when he told each one the same thing. At the end of the film he had only signed two guys, one who went undrafted and one who ended up leaving Lee’s company after being drafted by the New York Giants. Like any business I would assume there are those who do the job because they love it and really do have their clients best interests at heart, and for that reason the sports agent is important in keeping these players being treated like property. At the same time I believe there are those who are in it for the wrong reasons as well, but the important thing is Spurlock presents those sides for the viewer to see and decide.

The last bit of discussion in the film is about rules breakers in the game of sports agents, particularly in relation the NCAA. I could easily write a book about this topic, but basically all Spurlock does is call into question the system set up by the NCAA and the agreement they have with the agents, who sometimes feel as though the rules were not made for them. One even makes the comment that he believed it was possible the succeed in the business being clean, but that it was very unlikely. As with the other topics discussed, Spurlock could have made an entire feature length documentary about the subject of NCAA rules violations, but that was not his purpose. Spurlock seems to make it clear that this is a piece to introduce the pros and cons and the issues and have the viewer decide where they stand on the issues. To that purpose, the film succeeds brilliantly, even if it could easily expand on everything it covers, which is quite a bit considering the quick runtime.

*** – Good


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