Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 1, Page 23
Fall 1992
Seeing stars; What do all these people have in common?

      What does Peter Johnson, Delaware '72, have in common with superstars
Joe Montana, Martina Navratilova, Herschel Walker, Ivan Lendl and Nancy
Lopez? This former Delaware football player negotiates contracts for these
athletic mega stars who've tossed touchdown passes to win Super Bowls and
won millions of dollars in tennis and golf championships.
      He also lines up product endorsements for his clients who speak for
everything from soft drinks to credit cards.
      Johnson's role as agent for his sports celebrities varies from one
day to the other, he says. Some days he's their personal adviser, the next
he may be their business manager or friend or psychologist.
      One of Johnson's favorite deals was in 1987, when he orchestrated the
National Football League trade of former Blue Hen quarterback Rich Gannon
from New England to Minnesota. Johnson stepped in when New England wanted
to switch the speedy Gannon to running back. (The Vikings have kept the
Delaware legend at quarterback, where he is now a starter in his sixth pro
      A wide receiver and tight end on Delaware's championship teams of the
late '60s and early '70s, the 6-3, 230-pound Johnson was both big enough
and good enough to try out for the NFL in 1972. After being cut just before
the season started, he went home to suburban Philadelphia. He had elected
not to have an agent during his brief pro career.
      "Trying to figure out what to do," Johnson bought some time by
working on an MBA at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Just before graduating in 1976, Johnson was "fascinated" by an article in
Sports Illustrated about entrepreneur Mark McCormack, founder of
International Management Group (IMG). Johnson decided that working for
McCormack was his dream job.
      Johnson sent a blind inquiry. Two interviews later, Johnson had
struck a deal at IMG, which then employed about 60 people. Today, the
Cleveland-based Johnson is senior corporate vice president of IMG, which
has grown to 1,300 employees.
      Johnson's clout in the sports world has grown right along with IMG.
In January, The Sporting News named him the 35th most powerful person in
sports. By comparison, Michael Jordan was ranked 50th. Downplaying the
notoriety, Johnson says, "I'm lucky to be the 35th most powerful person at
      Johnson admires athletes whose fame has not gone to their heads.
Football's Montana is one, he says. "He'll talk to you whether you're an
8-year-old kid or a 50-year-old CEO," says Johnson, who adds that golf's
Lopez is the same way. "I've managed Nancy since she entered the LPGA tour
and she hasn't changed one iota since that time."
      Have sports stars become too glamorized in American society? "Yes, I
think it's really gone overboard," Johnson replies. "Let's face it, we're
just talking about a game here. I think there's way too much emphasis on
athletes and sports in this country. It also becomes pretty difficult on
the athletes themselves because 24 hours a day they're under a microscope."
      Johnson doesn't blame his profession for contributing to American's
obsession with celebrity athletes. "If you wanted to fault someone, you can
fault the media. They're the ones who seemingly are interested in
everything an athlete does-where they go to dinner, where they go on
      Johnson married fellow IMG agent Stephanie Tolleson in 1991.
      Among Tolleson's clients are Navratilova rivals Monica Seles and
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.
      "It becomes interesting when Monica or Arantxa plays Martina,"
Johnson says. "We sit at the opposite ends of the stadium and root for our
respective clients."
                                   -Bill Clark, Delaware '82