Football Femme - 405 Magazine

Football Femme

Kelli Masters shares her story shaped by God, grit and gameday.

Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander

Kelli Masters shares her story shaped by God, grit and gameday.

How does a woman insert herself successfully into the testosterone-fueled world of football? Kelli Masters knows, and she shares her secrets in her new book, High-Impact Life: A Sports Agent’s Secrets to Finding and Fulfilling a Purpose You Can’t Lose. Part memoir, part self-help, part bible study — and fully heartfelt — the book takes readers through Masters’ journey to finding her calling and becoming a sports agent.

Masters is the founder of KMM, a full-service sports management company based in Oklahoma City. She is credited as the first woman ever to represent a top five pick in the NFL Draft, and Bleacher Report has recognized her as one of the 25 most influential women in sports worldwide. After years of self-reflection, study and putting herself “out there” in the most challenging situations, the former Miss Oklahoma has built a career that has made her many NFL players’ go-to person. 

“My focus with the athletes that I work with is on how I can help them live purposeful lives and be fulfilled well beyond their sports careers,” Masters said, adding that everyone seems to struggle with such big-picture notions. “I realized I could take everything I was doing with my athletes and share it with countless others through a book.”

High-Impact Life is divided into 10 “Kelli-isms,” as Masters calls them, which she explains through personal stories, biblical accounts and questions prompting self-reflection.

“My prayer and hope is that even if you don’t share the same views and beliefs, you can still glean wisdom, inspiration and perspective from this book,” Masters said. Perhaps what the book does best is take you inside the world of sports agents. “It’s certainly been a unique journey that I hope gives people hope with whatever adversities they are facing — and to keep persevering in what they feel called to do.”

Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander

Making the Call

In conversations with Masters about themes for the book, the publishing team at Tyndale Momentum said they had noticed something different about her overall approach to the sports agenting profession: She was doing something more consequential than signing clients and negotiating contracts, and she represented something more significant than just a female pioneer in the industry. What they admired most was that when Masters takes on a client, her approach to helping them succeed gets personal — deeply personal.

“My focus with each of my athletes isn’t just, ‘We are going to make sure you are drafted the highest and you get the best contract,’” Masters said. “Yes, every agent wants to do that. It’s not just transactional, it is relational too — and it has to be both. I want them to know that I see them as more than a football player, that their worth and their value goes way beyond their stats and what they are able to accomplish on the football field.”

Finding fulfillment beyond the field makes a lot of sense, considering the fleeting nature of playing professionally. According to the NFL, the average career length for players across the league in any given position is a little more than three years. 

“They can’t play forever,” she said. “All of the crowd noise is going to go away. They’re not going to have their locker room, their teammates and their coaches, and they are going to have to be their own person.” 

“Even before I became an agent, I saw so many athletes who ended up broke, broken or both. It became my mission, when I became an agent, to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Masters’ solution? Live with purpose. And she practices what she preaches, too. Masters feels that her life’s purpose is to serve others. She feels the best way she can serve her players is by helping them identify what truly drives them, then working with them to integrate whatever that purpose is into long-term goals and plans.    

“As I’m recruiting and working with athletes, I’m not just helping them with their career. I’m also helping them discover their purpose and what impact their lives are supposed to have on others,” Masters said. 

Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander

Put on Your Game Face

Masters has been enthralled with football from a young age. She remembers attending Sooner football games at the University of Oklahoma throughout her upbringing and, like many Oklahomans, scheduling family events to complement — not compete with — the season’s calendar.

“The sights, sounds and pageantry of it all were just so thrilling for me. I loved the game and I had so many questions. I’m sure I was driving my dad crazy,” Masters said with a laugh.

To satisfy her curiosity, Masters vividly remembers how father gave her the “chalk talk,” explaining the various plays and rules of the game. There was something about all of it that Masters yearned to be a part of, and in college she was invited to take the field … with a baton. Masters was the OU Twirler, and she says the gig gave her a unique behind-the-scenes look into football. She began to admire the sport, and the athleticism it required, even more.

“The discipline and perseverance it takes to play a sport, especially at the highest level — I just had such appreciation for that,” Masters said. 

By the time she was in college, she knew how to captivate a crowd with a toss of a baton. After all, she had spent most of her life learning and practicing. Twirling lessons began at age five. She began competing at age 8. At age 11, Masters went to her first national championship, and she won the title at 14. 

“I look back at my life, at all the times when I was terrified to do something, and I still dug deep and did it anyway because there was this deeper underlying purpose,” Masters said. “It’s funny to say, but baton twirling was the launching point of me doing things in the face of fear. I remember being terrified every time I took the floor, but then I would fall back on my preparation and think, ‘No, this is what I want. No one is making me do this. I wanted to do this, and even if it looks scary, I’m going to step out and do it anyway.’” 

This pep talk was quite similar to the one Masters gave herself while hiding in the bathroom, just before the swimsuit competition, during the 1997 Miss Oklahoma pageant. In the end, she shone on stage and ended up winning the competition, which paid for law school. After that, Masters became ingrained in nonprofit law — which fed her passion to serve others, but not her passion for sports.

“I had been a lawyer for about five years when I got the chance to work with a football player from OU, Josh Heupel,” Masters said. Sooner fans know the name well, as Heupel led the OU team back to national prominence in 2001. 

“I was working in nonprofit law, and they had started a foundation that they needed help with and needed to hire a lawyer,” she said. “I was so excited to get to work with his foundation and to meet him and his family. It was his mom who was really the most encouraging to me. She said, ‘We really would have loved to have worked with someone like you with his career.’”

Like, a sports agent? Masters remembers the conversation as a “Eureka!” moment.

“When it came to me through what I was already pursuing with purpose, it just made sense. It was like the path just opened, and it was the right one to take,” Masters recalled. 

Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander

From One Playbook to Another

High-Impact Life is full of humorous and enlightening stories. It also details the many hurdles Masters had to overcome to become a certified sports agent. According to the book, the experience required much studying, networking and praying. 

“I feel like my ability to discern [my calling] came from spending time in silence, in prayer, in meditation and reading the word,” Masters said. “Faith is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more it grows and gets stronger.”

As a testament to Masters’ strong faith, the book includes stories and takeaway lessons she has gleaned from the Bible. 

“I really didn’t set out to write a devotional,”  said Masters. “I honestly was thinking [about how] all of my sports colleagues and clients are going to be reading this book, and I genuinely wanted it to be about purpose, looking at ‘How I can make an impact on others?’ rather than ‘How can I be successful?”

“As I put my thoughts on paper, I couldn’t get away from the fact that who I have become and my faith journey were so intertwined.”

Though Masters grew up a church-going Christian, she didn’t feel a deep spiritual connection to God until her law school years. That was when she did her own personal assessment, asking herself, “What is my purpose?” and “What has God called me to do?” Equipped with skills from her journalism and law schooling, she did her own research, calling on trusted friends and mentors and reading scripture.

“I realized I was created by a loving Father and that he had me here for a reason and a purpose,” Masters said. “I just needed to open my heart, surrender control — the way I tried to control everything in my life, I had to let go of that — and let go of this performance mindset of trying to impress everybody all of the time. I don’t have to work my way towards approval from God. I just need to open my heart and surrender my life to him and to his perfect plan.”

Masters readily admits she isn’t perfect, but she is constantly aligning her actions with her purpose to serve others. It’s why she answers phone calls from her players any day, any time. It’s why she consistently ensures that they are taken care of, as well as their family. It’s why she fights for them to get the best training and medical care. 

“Even on my bad days, like when my player tore his ACL at practice the other day, I love what I do because I can be a soft place to land. We cry together. We celebrate together. We laugh together, and I help them figure things out,” said Masters. “The tough moments are my moments to shine, because I can make someone feel valued and cared about and that they are the most important thing in that moment.” 

Such dedication makes Masters a friend and confidant for many NFL players — before, during and even long after their professional football careers. 

“I still am close to clients that I represented 17 years ago. I am part of their kids’ lives, and I still help them with their businesses and goals,” Masters said with a smile, “so they really do become part of my family.”

Photo by Charlie Neuenschwander