Enis' Agent Says he Goes by Book - The Bible

Chicago Tribune/August 9, 1998
Rick Morrissey and Robert Becker

Last year the man came to minister to the Bible study groups of about 10 NFL teams. His message to the players was the same at each stop: He had the best business textbook available. It's called the Bible, and it asks godly men to manage their assets responsibly and to give generously to their local church.

"It's the same thing as any other financial plan, but it's by Scripture," the man said. "You have your budget. You have your net worth. You have your investments, your life insurance, your estate planning. The Bible has everything to say about that." But Greg Feste, the man doing the ministering, is also a player agent. That has led some to wonder whether his mix of business and religion is an unholy alliance and whether his Bible study talks give him an advantage over other agents.

"The reality is that people who want to talk about business are interested in business," one prominent agent said. "If they are interested in talking about religion, they talk about religion. And the two don't intersect."

Sometimes they do. A few years ago, Feste was invited to speak to a Bible study group for some of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and it turned out to be a big moment for the man with the plan.

"I was referred to Mark," Feste said. That's Mark, the quarterback, not Mark, the Gospel writer. Mark Brunell signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract with the Jaguars last year, and although Feste's Malachi Financial Services did not negotiate that deal, it does handle his lucrative endorsement and marketing contracts.

"One thing led to the other, and here we are," Feste said. "I think people are trying to imply that there's a line of referral or a mechanism to get clients. If you go sit down with any businessman out there, it works exactly the same way. You're going to get referred by people.

"I don't understand the big deal about it. If I go to a Bible study at a team and they hear something they like and they want to call us, that's great. If they don't, that's fine too. But the majority of the business is still grown the old-fashioned way--a client telling somebody else about you."

The NFL Players Association, which certifies agents, says that one representative can't interfere in another's relationship with a player.

"We don't have regulations that govern what agents or financial advisers can talk about with players in Bible study groups," said Doug Allen, the NFLPA's assistant executive director. "I don't think sharing religious faith in and of itself is cause for concern."

Feste finds himself in the whirl of attention spinning around his client, Bears first-round pick Curtis Enis, and Champions for Christ, a group that ministers to athletes. Agents have complained that CFC suggests its athletes tithe 10 percent of their salaries to the organization, a charge CFC leaders deny. And agents have questioned whether CFC refers clients to Feste, an avowed devout Christian.

"I have no affiliation with Champions," he said last week. Tax records show The Malachi Foundation, the non-profit group he heads, gave Greg Ball a total of $34,015 in 1995 and 1996 and another $1,150 to CFC in that same span. Ball is the president of Champions for Christ. Feste said his charitable foundation helps support about 20 pastors and evangelists around the country, including Ball.

"That support is for full-time ministers to help them with their living needs," Feste said. "That's what the foundation does. I supported Greg prior to even having one athlete as a client. We're proud of it. I challenge corporate America to do what we're doing." Ball also received $110,000 in salary and in housing compensation in 1996 from Champions for Christ, according to tax records.

Feste, 37, is near center stage as Enis holds out from Bears camp after an initial contract demand of $45 million over seven years. But it was Enis' musical-agent routine that caused the real stir. After saying he was giving himself to Jesus about seven weeks ago, Enis switched representatives, from former Raiders defensive back Vann McElroy to Feste.

Enis came to Feste on a recommendation from Bears tackle Jimmy Herndon, a CFC member. The NFL reportedly is looking into the situation.

Some agents claim Feste uses spirituality to lure clients, although none would talk on the record for this story. Feste said he is only teaches sound business practices based on Scripture. He is doing it even as he tries to do what every agent would do in his shoes; that is, squeeze every last penny from the Bears.

"If you believe God formed you, you have to believe that everything God gave us is His, including the assets from the money you have," he said. "That's the principle that we go from, that God entrusted those assets to us and he gave us a way to learn how to manage it through the Bible."

Among those principles, Feste said, is tithing to the church, giving to the community and feeding the hungry. His thinking has come a long way in 10 years. On April 22, 1989, Feste sat in a hotel room thinking about killing himself with a gun. He was a successful broker, wore an expensive watch, drove a nice car and had a nice home. But, at 28, he was miserable. He was drinking too much, and he was drifting from his family, he said. "I thought, `If this is what life's all about, I don't want it,' " he said.

Instead of committing suicide, however, he says he turned to Jesus. Feste would need his faith in the coming years. Not long after his conversion, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy following a series of failed real-estate deals. The food company he started went under as well. He had debts of almost $3.8 million, according to bankruptcy court records.

"I don't really know (what went wrong), quite frankly," said Feste, who graduated with a business degree from Texas Christian in 1982. "I had a gentleman come in as chief financial officer of my company. There are some definite questions about that. One day I wake up, and it's heading south, unbeknownst to me. It went down real quick. I was as shocked as anybody else."

He lost his $400,000 home in Houston. Not long after, Ball, a longtime acquaintance, came to Texas and "introduced me to Jesus Christ," Feste said. "I wanted to live for Jesus," he said. "Now He's it. He is it for me. He's my best friend. He's everything I got."

Some of those affected by the bankruptcy remember Feste as aggressive and professional. Patrick Dugan said Feste apologized for having to drop out of the deal.

"It's impressive he's been able to come back," said Dugan, vice president for Nortex Corp., a Houston-based oil and gas company that invested in Feste's real-estate company. "I'm impressed he's been able to follow through (on his religious conversion)."

Feste, wearing blue jeans and a Malachi Financial Services baseball cap, sits in his office on a warm summer morning. Behind him, a television tuned to a business channel runs a ticker across the bottom of the screen. He's a long way from his failed business dealings, but he keeps it close by, using it often in his speaking engagements.

Feste calls the bankruptcy, which he has disclosed to the NFLPA, "one of the greatest things that could have happened to me." He was able to know his wife and children again, he said. He went back to being a broker and slowly started building back his shattered finances. There were, however, some problems along the way.

Between 1987 and 1994, four customers filed complaints against him with the National Association of Security Dealers. In 1992 he was suspended for one day by the association for "unsuitable recommendations to clients." Feste said the suspension stemmed from the 1987 stock market crash.

"One person had lost some money in the crash and wanted money for it, so they filed a complaint," he said. "I think every broker in town probably had several of those."

He began Malachi, named for the last book of the Old Testament, in 1993. The company was dedicated to helping the Christian community "steward God's assets," Feste said. Since then, it has taken off. There is Malachi Financial Services, which represents about 60 clients, including 45 athletes. There is Malachi Aviation, a jet- leasing company. There is Malachi Mattress, which acquires mattress companies. The name Malachi, Feste said, means "my message."

"I just feel like God had given me a message to preach to the church, and that is to become financially responsible for the Lord and what He has entrusted to you and to begin to restore the giving back into the church," he said.

There is nothing inherently wrong with money, said Feste, who does business out of a comfortable suite in an office park. But he said he hopes to give away most of what he has to charity before he dies. Still, when Jesus warns that no one can be His disciple without first giving up possessions, He doesn't mean believers should sell everything, Feste said. "If everybody took a vow of poverty, there wouldn't be anyone to spread the Gospel," he said.

But the mixing of money and spirituality makes some uncomfortable. "The mere fact that someone aligns themselves with God or the Bible doesn't necessarily mean they conduct good business practices," one agent said. "Exhibit A: John Gillette."

Gillette, who is accused of bilking pro athletes out of more than $11 million, used Christianity as his business card, leading prayer sessions and filling promotional material for his Pro Sports Management company with religious references. Among those who lost money were Dallas defensive back Darren Woodson ($2.5 million) and San Diego linebacker Junior Seau ($1.25 million).

"I'm as concerned as anybody else is about what happened in San Diego, but I don't think that means that everybody who's involved in religious activity with professional athletes is a crook," said the NFLPA's Allen.

Feste said he'll keep doing what he's doing, no matter how much the storm whips around Enis. He believes his spiritual investment is growing at a nice rate, that his clients are receiving and giving, just as the Bible says they should.

He plans on speaking to about 15 NFL teams with Bible study groups this year. He hopes the effort shows a healthy return.

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