Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Thornton’s comments underscore Jay-Z’s role in recruiting Geno Smith (updated)

Geno Smith

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith, center, stands in the locker room as he answers questions from the media after NFL football practice in Florham Park., N.J., Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)


The agent community is buzzing in the aftermath of the decision of Jets quarterback Geno Smith to hire a previously unknown agent who happens to be employed by the sports agency owned by Jay-Z.

It’s fairly obvious to the neutral observer that Smith picked Roc Nation to represent him not because of the previously unknown agent but because of the man who owns the firm. If Jay-Z wasn’t involved in the recruitment of Smith, Jay-Z’s ownership of the firm wouldn’t be a problem. But if Jay-Z helped persuade Smith to hire Roc Nation not only for off-field deals (which aren’t covered by the NFLPA rules) but for his football contract (which is), Jay-Z possibly ran afoul of the NFLPA’s prohibition on the use of non-certified agents in the recruitment of clients.

One of Smith’s advisers, former West Virginia and NFL defensive lineman John Thornton, essentially admitted that Smith picked Jay-Z, not the agent, and that Jay-Z was directly involved in persuading Smith to hire Roc Nation."It really all came down to who he was most comfortable with,” Thornton told “I was in those meetings and Jay-Z connected with him on many levels.”

(Thornton says, via Twitter, that he was misquoted by CBS.)

Jay-Z connected with Geno Smith, not the previously unknown agent Jay-Z has hired to work for Roc Nation. And so the facts at a minimum suggest that Jay-Z recruited Geno Smith to sign with the agent, which if true would be a violation of NFLPA rules.

The most important question is whether the NFLPA will do anything about it. The union has not responded to a request for comment sent via email on Wednesday afternoon. Previously, the union allowed Jay-Z to be involved in the recruitment of Giants receiver Victor Cruz by CAA, based on Jay-Z’s pre-existing friendship with Cruz.

While plenty of agents are looking at this as a way for the NFLPA to knock Jay-Z down a few pegs as he encroaches on their turf, others simply want guidance as to what is and isn’t allowed. If Jay-Z was indeed involved in recruiting Smith, a potentially gaping loophole in the rules has been created, which could prompt other agents to partner with non-agent celebrities who then would help attract clients.

Essentially, the now-defunct “runner” industry would be resurrected, with artists, actors, and entertainers replacing the anonymous figures who previously operated in the shadows. Maybe that’s a better alternative. For now, other agents want to know whether that alternative will be acknowledged as valid.

UPDATE 11:32 a.m. ET: As noted above, Thornton claims that he was misquoted by CBS. Via Twitter, Thornton says that Jay-Z did not attend meetings with Smith, and that he was in London. That said, Smith posted on Instagram last week a photo with Jay-Z.