In the competitive world of sports management, two former Long Beach athletes have emerged to help young stars navigate their careers both on and off the football field.
Juwuan Brown and Len Willis are cousins who shared a passion for football at a young age, with Willis playing at Long Beach City College and Brown playing at Poly High School. After graduation, Willis ventured into the music industry, signing talented artists who went on to secure major-label deals. Brown, on the other hand, pursued a degree in criminal justice.
While life seemed to steer the two away from their love for football, it wouldn’t be long before another family member lit a spark that reignited their love for the game.
Brown’s brother, Jayon, started his career as a linebacker at UCLA in 2013. While he played in all 13 games his freshman year, he was a special teams player and a reserve at the linebacker position.
Willis says Jayon Brown was third-string behind some very good players and soon became frustrated with his lack of playing time. So much so that he voiced his concerns to his brother and cousin, expressing his intention to transfer schools in the hopes of increasing his time on the field.
Instead, Brown and Willis stepped in with valuable advice. They encouraged Jayon to stay focused and wait for his moment to shine on the field.
“It was on good faith,” says Willis. “We were around, going up to UCLA and seeing how good he was at practices, and we believed he could possibly make it if he had a shot.”
The duo’s encouragement paid off. In 2015, Myles Jack, who would go on to be drafted in the second round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, sustained an injury that took him out of the game and Jayon was the next man up.
That season, Jayon played in 12 games and started in nine. He finished the season leading the team in tackles, ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in total tackles, had a Pac-12 season-high of 18 tackles in one game, and recorded his first college career sack.
This success was not only a turning point for Jayon but also for Brown and Willis. Seeing how their guidance paid off for Jayon, the cousins decided it was time to start their own sports management company, and Play Fair Worldwide was born.
The name itself speaks to the expectations the company has, not only for its clients but also for the partners they interact with.
“We want to do things the right way,” says Brown. “We want to do business the right way and play the game the right way.”
Play Fair Worldwide provides guidance to athletes transitioning from their collegiate careers into the NFL. Brown says it can be a very scary and intimidating time, as athletes have to constantly build business relationships with people they don’t know.
“When you go talk to an agency, you’re never going to get a bad presentation,” says Willis. He says that’s why a trustworthy sports management agency is so vital.
“With our expertise, we’ve been able to meet a lot of the agents and do business with a lot of the agencies,” Willis says.
Willis says this is vital in helping the athlete find the right fit. While the agent will handle the player’s contract with a team, a manager will make sure they find the right agent and help facilitate brand deals.
Those deals are based on the personality and passions of their clients. Brown says the first step with any client is getting to know who they are as a person so they can better guide them in business—something Brown learned early on while working for a different agency. He says he was able to help facilitate a deal for star quarterback Patrick Mahomes to endorse Essential Water and land the cover of Madden NFL 20 before Mahomes became the MVP.
Still, the company’s first real success was based on family helping family. By his senior year, Jayon received a first-team All-Pac-12 Conference selection and led the Pac-12 in both sacks and tackles. Although he was expected to go undrafted, the guidance from Play Fair Worldwide resulted in him being drafted in the fifth round by the Tennessee Titans. He went on to play six years in the league, five with the Titans and one with the Raiders.
While the success the company has with its clients on the field is important, it is not the only aspect of sports management. Willis says often players struggle after their professional careers because their identity has been football-focused since childhood.
“We’re from Long Beach,” says Willis. “We’ve seen a lot of guys go to the league, and after, they weren’t ready for the real world.”
Brown says that understanding is why they often focus on a client’s mental health and encourage them to explore business ventures outside of football to make sure they can survive in the real world. The company builds strong relationships with tax and financial advisors, and investors, as well as coaches and trainers in the league—all to help their clients have the best chance beyond the game.
Both Brown and Willis understand that their presence in the sports management world as Black men is important.
“This industry is 80% African American, but when it comes to the business side, you don’t really see us,” says Willis.
Willis also believes that he and Brown have a unique ability to make sure athletes are prepared for the future: “Football didn’t work out for us, but we are still in football,” he says.
The company strives to make sure athletes can see the bigger picture and are prepared during and after their careers. While the vision may have started with Brown’s brother, in their seven years, the company has amassed an impressive client list with athletes such as Green Bay Packers defensive back Rudy Ford, Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Matt Dickerson, collegiate athletes like USC defensive lineman Kyon Barrs, and many more.
Los Angeles Chargers running back Joshua Kelley praised Play Fair’s dedication to clients, saying, “It’s a game-changer to have a team get back to you promptly and make you feel important.”
The company recently secured an endorsement deal for Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones with an exclusive jewelry dealer, Shop GLD. Jones echoed the founding principles of the management company, saying, “Working with Play Fair has been great. They have helped connect me with many brands that fit my personal brand and lifestyle. We have grown to become family.”
Learn more about Play Fair Worldwide Sports Management on their Instagram.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct where Len Willis played football.