WHEN I STARTED PLAYING, NO AGENTS LOOKED LIKE ME
Damani Ralph is an agent on a mission; to give the best possible representation to his clients but also to be a mentor and instil the values that are summed up in Black History Month.
The month (which is observed in February in North America and October in the UK and Europe) is a celebration, recognition and sombre reflection on the struggles and victories achieved by black people.
It is also is the perfect time, Damani says, for everyone to think about how they are using their positions in the football industry to continue pushing for equality of opportunity.
“Promoting diversity is something that is close to me. When I started playing there were no agents who looked like me,” Damani says. “Although there is still a long way to go, it has evolved and the opportunities for black people to become agents, coaches and directors at clubs are greater than ever before but it has to keep evolving.
“Of course we should be celebrating Black History all the time but the month gives us a chance to focus on the real pioneers who opened up the doors to people like myself. From generation to generation there are black people who made so many sacrifices. It is vital to tell their stories so younger people don’t take things for granted.”
Damani, who is CAA Stellar’s North America Vice President, was born and raised in Jamaica. He impressed in schoolboy soccer at St Georges College in Kingston but then faced a dilemma about whether he should concentrate on football or education. In the end he managed to do both moving to a college in Mississippi before winning a place at the University of Connecticut.
“There was no academy type set up in Jamaica and not much around in the way of mentoring but one of my coaches knew someone who would be able to help get me to America and so I decided to chase my dreams,” he says.
After excelling at this level, Damani graduated a scholar athlete and was drafted by MLS Chicago Fire, scoring a record 11 goals in his rookie season. A second successful season saw him earn a move to Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan, all the while notching up 19 appearances for the Jamaica national side.
“Playing in Chicago prepped me for the cold weather in Russia and I had some good times there,” Damani jokes. Unfortunately though he picked up a knee injury and despite a few operations ended up having to retire.
Heading back to the States, Damani he went back to university to complete a degree course in economics and graduated a scholar athlete. His agent, CAA Stellar’s Patrick McCabe, suggested he should consider a career in player representation. Damani has never looked back.
It’s been 12 years with the best agency in the world! The most rewarding part of it for me has been the chance to give back to players. This level of mentorship just wasn’t available when I was a kid. It’s especially satisfying to be able to help young black players transition into the professional game.
“The agent is there to negotiate the best contract for his client, but an agent also has to be a mentor who guides players through their careers and has the dubious task of helping them to set up for a successful post career. It’s all about maintaining balance, professionalism and avoiding pitfalls and distractions.
“It brings me much fulfilment to pass on the wisdom and knowledge I have gained, and I can only hope that the next generation will continue to pay it forward and pass it on.”
With Black History Month in mind, we asked Damani to nominate someone who had been an influence on his life. He chose his father, Robert, who sadly died earlier this year.
He said: “My father was not a professor but he was an educator, a man who valued and loved history and stood strong on his values and he instilled those values in me. He would always say “if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you won’t know where you’re going ”. He was a great man and a great human being and a huge influence on my life.
“Of course we should be celebrating Black History all the time but the month gives us a chance to focus on the real pioneers who opened up the doors to people like myself
From generation to generation there are black people who made so many sacrifices. It is vital to tell their stories so younger people don’t take things for granted.”