Cindrich: While I was playing pro football, my brother, Bob, was an attorney, and he represented me on my first contract. I’ve always been fond of saying that, like everyone else, I got screwed by my agent. I had bad knees — no one ever really hit me that hard, it was the astroturf — so I knew going into the pros that I was going to be limited. I wanted to make a living once I got out of football.
Q: How did you go to school at the same time as playing?
Cindrich: It was a night school down in Houston. There were no special arrangements, it was very difficult. You couldn’t keep up regularly like a student normally would, but the emphasis was placed on the final exam. You couldn’t do the regular reading assignments, but if you really went hard at the end, you’d be alright.
Q: Which was harder, your first year of law school or learning your first pro playbook?
Cindrich: The first year of law school, without question.
Q: How does your legal training help you as an agent?
Cindrich: It is invaluable. For example, the very first case I had, I cost the Steelers a third-round draft choice. There was a guy who had been injured in an unauthorized practice, I was able to go through the grievance process. The Steelers’ attorneys were kind with me.
Q: Where do player safety and the law intersect?
Cindrich: it becomes a legal issue once you have mass tort actions, which certainly are taking place right now. That always catches the attention of big industry, employers and the public at-large. It’s more pronounced now, the damage done to individuals playing the game, and very likely, all the same problems are there with college players — the joint problems, the concussions. I don’t know anybody playing this game who hasn’t been knocked out or pretty darn close.
Q: While you were playing, did you realize that the game was damaging you?
Cindrich: Not in the way it’s manifesting itself now.
Q: Isn’t there an assumption of risk?
Cindrich: I agree wholeheartedly, but I’m not sure that case could have been made earlier than the ‘90s. Once the 300-pounders started coming in, that changed the game.
Q: What’s the worst part of your job?
Cindrich: There is a downside. The hypocrisy of the NCAA makes it extremely difficult for any agent to compete for a college player anywhere near how a collegiate coach would compete in recruiting a high school player. In many states, it’s a felony if you don’t contact the athletic director, the head coach, receive permission and pay a fee of $1,000 before you can even know if the guy is interested. It’s why I was so upset with what happened at Penn State — call football what it is: it’s big business. Somewhere down the line, you’ll get into anti-trust issues.
Q: Why practice out of Pittsburgh?
Cindrich: There are probably better places to locate if you’re purely in the sports business, although Pittsburgh has been good to me. But it’s strictly about family. But I say to local recruits you have a name here already — not enough of these young guys look to their livelihood after they’re done playing. I’m not a recruiter, I hated wasting my time traveling across the country meeting someone you weren’t interested in and he wasn’t interested in you. If you’re in this business and going hard all the way through, you’re going weekends, holidays. When my mother died in 2009 at 90, I had no regrets. I could’ve picked up more clients if I had gone to the games, but I saw just as much of them and maybe more if I recorded them and watched the film. You lose a little camaraderie there, and that’s how you get recruits. But I’m a family man. I never miss an event of neither my son and my daughter. I held up the Herschel Walker trade from Minnesota to the Cowboys to coach a little league football game with my son.
Q: What’s another legal issues players face that fans don’t always think about?
Cindrich: Gun laws. I don’t advocate that, but I’ve had guys get held up right outside their secured apartments. I’m sure a quiet poll would show a healthy majority of players have access to some type of weapon for protection.
(Image: Ralph Cindrich)