In a world of sports where marketing and consumer perception are paramount in maintaining image and brand value, it is often convenient for leagues to simply distance themselves from players involved in controversial events: convenient for the leagues and devastating for the players. Regardless of guilt or circumstance, being cut off from an income and a career that are generally a lifetime in the making can have consequences more severe than the legal punishment for the same crime, all without a formal system of due process and representation.
If there ever was a freedom fighter in the sports world, Charisse Espinosa-Dash is the lady. As an attorney with experience in reading legal verbiage and a keen sense for negotiations, she has turned more sad situations into positive reinstatement than what could be considered luck. Most importantly, however, is her love of the game of baseball and her love for the people of her native Dominican Republic, a country where the talent is as prevalent as the individuals who seek to exploit it.
“With offering money in countries where you have poverty, you’re up to anything. You don’t know what these people have been through, and they do have legitimate talent, even though some of them do make mistakes —they’re human.” Most of the time, according to Dash, these mistakes come from trusting the wrong people, many times family and friends. “A lot of times, you hear the culture is that you don’t need an agent; you only need what’s called a buscon. In the Dominican Republic, there has been a plague, for lack of a better word, of people who have their own interest at heart and not so much the interest of the athletes.”
It is from these situations and controversies that Ms. Espinosa-Dash has so expertly rescued some of her most prominent clients. Most notably, Alexi Ogando, after admitting guilt to involvement in a human trafficking scheme, who was facing indefinite banishment from the United States. Roberto Hernandez was deported for falsifying identification documents when applying for an entry visa.
One could argue that there is no amount of talent that is worth tarnishing the reputation of an established league like the MLB. It is easy to see why they simply choose to put these situations as far away as possible. Espinosa-Dash sees it from a different perspective. Knowing the culture and the common circumstances, she can hear the pitch that’s made to these aspiring athletes: you’re not going to make it if you don’t do this; it’s your only way out. When faced with the responsibility to elevate their families out of poverty with the talent they possess, these athletes (many times minors) are often the victims of exploitation as much as heroes to their families.
How have your legal and professional backgrounds helped you and your clients?
Immensely. My legal background has allowed me to understand the regulations very easily. Being able to explain it to my client, especially knowing what they’re going to face when it comes time for arbitration and to help them understand everything in plain language.
What tips do you have for young players to help them identify unprofessional or unhealthy relationships with representatives and agents and finding good council?
The biggest advice that I can give them is to be careful with who surrounds them. What is their interest in signing. In the Dominican Republic, there has been a “plague” (for lack of a better word) of people that have their own self-interests at heart, not so much the athletes’ interests. The best advice that I could give is to encourage these players to call the league and ask to speak with someone in the union. Let the union give you someone that they recommend or give you a list of registered agents to call and do some research.
How important is it for any professional athlete to have good representation and good support from an agent?
It’s extremely important to know what skills you have, what tools you have and what the teams are purchasing those tools for. You have to know what the value is to know that you’re getting prime dollar for your talent. I think that comes with someone with experience. Someone who’s able to bring clarity and good advice, clear advice based on knowing the system. In the end, it is very important, as a player, to know that you’ve gotten true value for your skill. A lot of problems that these players get themselves involved in has to do, number one, with a type of ignorance. The second thing is that they are easily swayed by the advisors around them because they have known this person since they were 14 and that the person had their best interest at heart. But they don’t really understand the intricacies of the business enough to know whether someone does have their best interest at heart or not. They make mistakes based on ignorance, based on a lack of education and based around the wrong advice that they’re getting from people who have ill-intent because, their intent is greed.
How have the athletic successes of your clients affected their families and their lives? What are some sad moments and, what are some gratifying stories that you’ve experienced?
Baseball, to a lot of my clients from the Dominican Republic, means an answer to a lot of poverty and an answer to being able to give their family members the lives that they otherwise would have never been afforded an opportunity to have. The Dominican Republic is a third-world country and that comes with a great gap between classes. Either you’re very wealthy—you have a middle class but it’s not that powerful—or you’re part of the majority living in poverty. A lot of the players come from very impoverished upbringings. Enough money to them to just buy a simple home for their mom is seen as success.
The happiest moment is when you see a kid who is 16 years old sign for $400,000. No matter what they have to pay out to their representation, for a lot of these kids, the first thing out of their mouth is, “I want a bigger house for my mom.” It’s very satisfying to be a part of that and be able to help them reach that goal through effective negotiation; seeing them make a huge change for their family. A lot of these kids don’t have running water. You’d be surprised, with all the glitz and glamour what they go back home to.
The saddest part is when they don’t have the proper advice around them on the financial side and you see them blow all their money. They’re back home, without an education and without anything to really show for their efforts.
Many of your success stories involved a change in public perception. How important is public relations and image to an athlete?
In any type of industry where there are children looking up to you, I think you have a responsibility to keep up the image that these kids are looking at. You have the youth looking up to you and idolizing you and seeing you as a hero. You have to respond to society and children and know that there’s someone out there that’s looking at you. Someone’s kid is looking at you. Your public appearance is 100% who you are. You don’t go on that mound and wear a uniform of an organization if you don’t have the proper appearance. You have fans and you answer to your fans. The reasons why you have that big league and that fan following is for your talent but, also, for how you portray yourself. Everyone wants to be seen in the best light possible, and I think that’s extremely important.