Changed The Game: Meet the radical agent-activist behind sports’ most inspiring stories

·7 min read

Lindsay Kagawa Colas took the first Senate-flipping call in July 2020 on her Peloton. Sue Bird, one of her clients, had an idea. WNBA players wanted to swing an election. And Colas, who represents two dozen of them, was going to help.

Help, after all, is what agents do. And Colas is objectively the WNBA’s best. Since joining Wasserman, a multi-sport agency, in 2009, she’s represented a majority of the league’s top draft picks and MVPs. Bird, Diana Taurasi, Breanna Stewart and Maya Moore are among the many clients who come to her with ideas.

But this idea particularly enthused Colas. Because, as she’s said, she “works in sports because of its ability to drive social change.” So she listened to Bird talk about ousting Senator Kelly Loeffler; then she got to work, contacting political consultants and setting up virtual meetings. Who can win? she and her clients asked of Loeffler’s challengers. Who can we trust? Who can we get behind?

They settled on Raphael Warnock, a little-known pastor who at the time was polling in the teens. Bird worked with Wasserman to design and distribute “VOTE WARNOCK” T-shirts to kickstart the campaign. Colas, among many others, supported it the rest of the way, asking Warnock’s campaign managers: “How can we help you?”

Half a year later, Warnock ended up in Washington.

It’s a story Colas enjoys rehashing, because it’s a story about helping clients do “stuff that really matters.” And “stuff that really matters” is why Colas is here. Colas has dedicated her life to impact. She exclusively represents women athletes, and sees closing gender gaps in sports as a form of activism. She’s negotiated unprecedented contracts with maternity protections and “inclusion rider” provisions. She calls her approach “relatively unique.”

And when asked about the inspiration for that approach, stumbling over words as I try to define her agent-activism, she interjects.

“How did I get so radical?” she says with a laugh. Is that what you’re trying to ask?

Then she clarifies: “I would take it as a compliment.”

Grassroots from the start

Colas was born and raised in the Bay Area, the daughter of a Japanese father who cultivated her love of sport. He was a high school basketball coach. Her babysitters were often high school athletes. Lindsay, encouraged by her parents, tried various sports, including baseball. She enrolled at Stanford to play volleyball, and became a two-time captain of the NCAA’s most dominant team.

All the while, she studied political science. She delved into the history of social justice movements and movement theory. History, she says, allows us to “understand where we are and where we're going.” And it inspired her to help chart various paths.

During her masters year, she founded a program to connect Stanford athletes with local kids as mentors. She applied for and won a fellowship researching the relationships between “high-net-worth individuals” and community organizations. “I really wanted to understand how we could do this better for athletes,” she says.

She figured she could do it as a consultant. She scored informational interviews with sports industry powerbrokers, and asked: “Does this matter to you? Should this matter to you? How can I make this matter to you?”

Bill Duffy, a longtime NBA agent, heard Colas’ consultant pitch, and instead offered her a job.

At Duffy’s agency, BDA, Colas saw how agents represented players “holistically, supporting them in a 360-[degree] way.” It was standard in men’s basketball in the early 2000s, but “doing that for women 20 years ago,” she explains, “you couldn’t justify that with revenue.”

“But I had this very radical idea,” she continues. “That these women athletes should be served and serviced in the same way. And I think that's probably what differentiated my approach from the beginning. Just coming from an NBA model, where that was the expectation, and saying, ‘Well, it should be the same for women.’ That was, at that moment, radical.”

It isn’t anymore — in part thanks to Colas.

(Courtesy of Wasserman LA)
Lindsay Kagawa Colas (Courtesy of Wasserman LA)

A role that transcends sports

At the core of any agent’s work is an understanding of what clients desire. At the core of Colas’ work is an eagerness to serve those desires beyond the boundaries of sports. The “Vote Warnock” campaign was the most high-profile example. But more often, change is hyperlocal — and, to many, unseen. It’s minority representation in products and storytelling. It’s brand collaborations that benefit queer youth. It’s events that amplify unheard voices.

“All of that stuff is radical in the way it shapes how people think about the world,” Colas reiterated in a text message.

“My job isn't just about fulfilling the basketball contract,” she says. “This is about her life.”

She’s talking about Maya Moore now, the former WNBA MVP who stepped away from basketball in 2019 to free her future husband from prison. Moore told Colas about Jonathan Irons long before the public knew his name. Colas felt the weight and privilege of that information, and committed to assisting Moore however she could. Moore worked directly with Irons’ legal team. Colas played the role of strategist, coordinating public awareness campaigns and negotiating media coverage. With Irons released, and he and Moore now married, Colas almost feels like the whole family’s agent.

Colas’ work also courses through the basketball side of the business. Equity within sport remains a priority. Colas speaks passionately about the widespread underinvestment in women’s sports, and semi-sarcastically about how women athletes “constantly are having to talk about why they matter.” She wants to change all that. It isn’t easy. But that’s how she likes it. If it were easy, she agrees, it wouldn’t be as impactful.

For the most part, Colas is very willing to operate behind-the-scenes. She was “flattered” to learn she’d be featured in Yahoo Sports’ “Changed The Game” series, alongside athletes she speaks about in reverential terms. Athletes who’ve been “erased from the narrative,” as she says, by “the patriarchy” and in some cases by racism. Athletes such as Wyomia Tyus, who should have been celebrated in 1968 as much as some of Colas’ clients are celebrated today.

But that’s precisely why Colas’ work is so important.

“What would have happened if Wyomia Tyus had an agent back then?” she says.

Changed The Game: Female athletes who paved the way.
Changed The Game: Female athletes who paved the way.

Inspiration is all around

Colas is a pioneer, in part because she applies her own experiences as a woman in sports to the battles she fights on behalf of athletes. Maternity protections in apparel contracts are one example. Colas also helped negotiate an egg-freezing deal with a Seattle reproductive clinic. “That was really built out of my own personal experience, having experienced fertility challenges,” she explains. Her 4-year-old son, Drew, was conceived via IVF.

Her innovative mind also pulls ideas from elsewhere. In 2018, the spark was an Oscars speech. “I have two words to leave with you tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” Frances McDormand said to close her acceptance speech. “Inclusion rider.”

Colas paused. She’d never heard the term. “What is that?” she thought.

She Googled it, and learned that some actors and actresses had been stipulating in contracts that people of color and other historically marginalized groups be given increased access to off-screen jobs.

A lightbulb flickered in Colas’ head. “Wow,” she thought. “I bet there's an application for this in sports. Why aren't we doing this?”

She called up Stacy Smith, the USC professor who’d originally developed the concept. Before long, Colas was negotiating a deal for swimmer Simone Manuel with TYR, a swimwear company. Colas and Manuel had talked about “build[ing] a business that's about impact ... that's about lasting change and inclusion.” So, mere months after McDormand’s Oscars speech, the first “inclusion rider” contract in sports was signed.

And it surely won’t be the last.

“I think you can find inspiration everywhere,” Colas says. “It's not just in sports. The models for what we're trying to apply, for affecting change through sport, and with women — it comes from all different places.”

"Changed the Game" is a Yahoo Sports series dedicated to the women who are often overlooked, under-appreciated or simply deserve more flowers for their contributions to women's sports history.

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