We associate professional sports with prestige and wealth, but we don’t usually think about the more mundane aspects of athletes’ lives—having to move to new cities, injuries, scrutiny by the media, contract negotiations and more. Enter Blake Baratz, founder and president of the Institute for Athletes [I.F.A.], located in downtown Minneapolis.
“We represent about 30 NFL players. We negotiate contracts and handle marketing and endorsements. We advise clients on all facets of their lives," says Baratz.
Baratz’s clients include Adam Thielen, Brandon Zylstra, Jonathan Allen, Adrian Clayborn, C.J. Hamm and Stephen Weatherly. “My players are intelligent and grounded. They’re a great community of people who are very well-respected. I like to represent players who want to be great on and off the field,” he says.“I ask athletes what they want their career to look like, and we help them get there."
Baratz grew up in Hopkins and attended University of Wisconsin-Madison. He worked in Los Angeles for several years before he returned to the Twin Cities in 2009 and established I.F.A.
“Our focus is working with athletes to build their legacies. There’s a lot of poor representation in the business. It’s rewarding to help athletes grow and build,” says Baratz.
“The majority of clients use their platforms for great things, but the media wants clicks, and people click on the negative stories. It’s not as enticing to click on the good things,” says Baratz.
Along with negotiations and public relations, I.F.A. has a more personal side.
“We help players get second opinions on injuries. We might go with them to their appointment, get the MRI that they had done and bring it along. It could be anything from a broken finger to a broken neck. Everyone is scrutinizing these players’ bodies, their minds. We help get them into top medical and mental shape using our global knowledge base.
“We have a team of mental health experts, medical specialists, chefs, nutritionists— top people who deal with top athletes. For example, our physical therapists work with players on biomechanics. We have our own doctors and trainers.
"Sports often ignores psychology. We encourage our athletes to make mental health a priority.... There’s a lot of Type A behavior and toxic masculinity in professional sports, along with performance anxiety.
“Fans only see what’s on TV. If you get signed, you’re expected to be in that city in 12 hours. You may have family. They don’t care about your kids or your dog, and you have to be prepared for the possibility of getting cut. And there are concerns about aging,” he says.
Baratz says, "My work with my clients is an extension of my family. I was raised with a sense of responsibility for taking care of others. We were very fortunate, and I was taught it’s important to give back and leave the world a better place than we found it,” he says.