April 28, 2021
The eerie, creaky door always had a way of telling the temperature of the small, bare apartment devoid of any presence or personality. If the door closed with the metallic slam of a prison cell, there would be trouble. If it hummed shut with a subtle click, there would be none.
Almost every night came with a slam. Followed by a torrent of heavy footsteps.
Those were the nights Andre Odom and his brother Robert would look at each other in their dim bedroom, anxious of what was coming, their hands clenched tight as they braced themselves for what inevitably arrived—a beating.
Whether it was with big, meaty hands, or with a wire or a belt, and whether it was induced by PCP, alcohol, or whatever the drug of choice was at the time, the boys’ father had to take his rage out on someone.
Those someones happened to be his adolescent sons.
Sometime Thursday night, the national TV cameras will pan over to the round table where Kyle Pitts will be sitting with family during the NFL Draft. There’s a chance that the lens might catch a glimpse of Andre Odom — in a flashy Ricky Soto royal blue wool suit with black lining — seated there with Pitts.
A 2003 George Washington High grad, Odom, 34, won’t be thinking about his courageous, traumatic past. He will no doubt have his head down, his ear attached to his phone. He will no doubt be working. He’s the agent, as a representative of powerhouse Athletes First, of certain first-round draft choices Pitts, the former Archbishop Wood star, and Penn State stars Micah Parsons and Jayson Oweh.
Maybe during a brief interlude or sometime after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calls the last name of the first round, Odom may recall the self-made journey he took to arrive at the pinnacle of sports on a spring night in Cleveland—and how close he came to never making it.
Odom, the father of three, will be brokering multi-million-dollar NFL deals. What makes it ironic is Odom once thought money was white, because that’s the color of food stamps. He’s only seen his drug-addled mother four times in his life, and doesn’t know where his father is, maybe prison.
Andre Odom never tiptoed around the raw stuff. It was planted on his face, or his neck, where his father once strangled him so hard it left finger imprints that a caring coach noticed as Odom walked by his office, changing Odom’s life forever.
Until then, Odom lived, breathed and walked in a tornado of tension.
Now, Odom has climbed up from the dark nadir to steadily rise into one of the most influential agents in football. He’s become adept at being tangibly discreet, knowing enough when to drop a few well-chosen words, then dissolving into the background.
"You look back at everything Andre went through, he shouldn’t be where he is, because he beat every odd against him, and he had every odd against him." —Eric Clark
“It’s about my clients, it’s their time,” says Odom, who also represents Archbishop Wood’s Mark Webb and Andre Cisco. “I work for them, so their families don’t ever have to know poverty and live what I lived through and saw. I can relate to a lot of these young men, because in some ways, I lived their lives.
“Believe me, it’s a life no one wants to live. But to survive it makes you appreciate more of what you have. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t live through it. Every day we were beat. Coming home every day, we didn’t even know if we would eat that day.
“We lived with someone we didn’t want to be with, someone who was supposed to love us and protect us, and we had to be protected from him. I never had a father. I had people who I could call ‘father,’ but never him. We knew every day we were going to get beat. Every day.
“Once you become immune to it, you never think anything of it, because me and Robert would look at each other and say, ‘There’s no one coming to save us.’ Because people knew we were getting our asses beat for no reason, and no one cared. We started to think of ways to protect ourselves.
“He was the bogeyman—and he was our father!”
Eric Clark, 36, is a long-time friend of Odom’s who is a Northeast High grad and is currently the head coach of the Vikings. The two have known each other for over 30 years. Clark came from a stable background. He went on to Towson and received a graduate degree from Eastern University.
Clark recalls the time a mutual friend of Odom and his died of AIDS when they were in the third grade.
“You look back at everything Andre went through, he shouldn’t be where he is, because he beat every odd against him, and he had every odd against him,” Clark said. “That says something about his strength and Andre’s grandmother, Lee [Odom]. She really raised him. He’s a special person, and when he sets his mind on something, he’s going to go and do it.
“He was fortunate enough to get around the right people—and was willing to accept their help. Where we came from, we went to a lot of funerals at a young age. I can’t promise you that I won’t cry when I see Andre’s guys go in the first round. But I can almost promise you that anyone sitting in those seats at the draft haven’t been through what Andre went through.
“He shouldn’t be there. The reason why he is there is him. I knew this was destined for Andre. He didn’t let his environment define him. He’s always been too strong for that.”
Jameel McClain was able to relate with many of the things Odom endured. McClain went on to Syracuse, where he graduated with a degree in communications, before going on to play seven years in the NFL and winning a Super Bowl with the 2012 Baltimore Ravens.
McClain, a Washington grad who currently works for the Ravens as the Director of Player Engagement, and Odom were inseparable as kids. Heaven to them was a dollar-hoagie, and a quarter fruit juice at the corner store. They would sometimes stay at Washington until 9 at night, because they had nowhere to go.
McClain and his mother spent many nights in the Salvation Army shelter.
“We do have so much in common. Andre’s life is like an E-60 story. He’s been through so much and see where he is today,” McClain said. “The world tried to shut him off at every turn. He had the ability to believe in himself, while standing in a dark tunnel. That’s what makes Andre special.
"Andre is a visionary. He has a moral compass as to who he is. Andre saw a future no one else saw for him. This is just the beginning for him." —Jameel McClain
“I think what got us through were amazing people around us, like [Washington High School football] Coach [Ron] Cohen, but we also pushed each other. It was a competition. I had to do better than him; he had to outdo me. We would go running at five in the morning, then get to school.
“We could have both been angry at the world, because of our situations—but where is it going to get you? Andre is a visionary. He has a moral compass as to who he is. Andre saw a future no one else saw for him. This is just the beginning for him.”
Vicki Oswald, then Vicki Rothbardt, had her suspicions Odom was unique. She taught Odom in third grade at Joseph Pennell grade school and had maintained contact with him through the years. It was Oswald who took eight kids, including Odom, to the memorial of the eight-year-old who died of AIDS.
“One of the best days of my life came when Andre was a senior at George Washington, after they lost the city championship and he was really depressed after the game,” recalled Oswald, a Washington and Temple grad. “I remember going down and giving him a hug after the game and wiping his tears away. The Monday after the game, I had an interview that fell through, so I decided to go to Washington and see how he was doing.
“The school allowed me to take him out. We went Christmas shopping together and went to see a movie. Andre told me how he had to pay himself through school at Temple, and he didn’t like revealing this to too many people, but he lived in his car for a time there.
“His success doesn’t surprise me, but I figured out that Andre and Robert were living in a crack house. The boys took care of their grandmother, as much as she took care of them. I had to get out [in the early-2000s] after 10 years of teaching in the Philadelphia School District.
“You had maybe 25% of the parents that cared and showed up at parent-teacher meetings. The other 75% I didn’t know about.”
Part of that 75% were Andre’s parents.
* * *
Everyone goes through an epiphany in life, those times that are galvanized by a life-altering moment. Andre Odom’s came one random afternoon walking by the office of Washington football coach Ron Cohen.
For two years, between the ages of 11 and 13, Odom and his brother Robert lived with their father, who was abusing them. No one inquired about it, until the legendary Philadelphia Public League champion leaped from his desk one day after seeing the marks on Odom’s neck.
“I remember pulling [Odom] in my office and asking him how this happened and what was going on. I didn’t even know who Andre was then,” recalled Cohen, 77, now retired. “Andre was remarkably candid with me, because a lot of these young kids who have been abused by a father or uncle are hesitant to say anything. They don’t trust anyone, so it takes time to break that wall down.
“Andre told me what was going on. So, I was able to take it a step further and take him and his brother Robert to the guidance counselor. We were able to eventually get them with their grandmother.
“I was fortunate to have a lot of great kids who came through here, and I’m so proud of what Andre has done with himself. You see what he’s doing with the players he represents. He tells them what life is about—because he lived it. I’ll never forget the time his father came and made a scene by pulling Andre and Robert out of practice.
“After Andre began living with his grandmother, that never happened again. Andre started fighting back. The problem these young people that come from abusive situations have is they think they did something wrong. They haven’t. Andre was smart enough to know he didn’t do anything wrong—it was his abusive father.”
"I don’t walk by Cohen’s office that day, I’m not here. I would have been sucked up by the streets, I would have killed my father, or my father would have killed me... That 100 percent would have happened." —Andre Odom
For a time, Odom had no light at the end of the tunnel. He didn’t have a tunnel. He used to be called “Angry Odom” in high school. He wore a sneer, and carried a standoffish disposition throughout the early portion of his teenaged years. He took up boxing. His pain transitioned to anger, and that hostility had to be released.
He didn’t know where or what the anger stemmed from at the time.
“I do now, knowing how life works and how people work,” says Odom, who graduated Temple in 2007 and picked up his graduate degree in business from Temple in 2013. “I had all of this pent-up anger, so boxing really did save me, along with a lot of special people.
“I didn’t own my first bed until I went to college. That’s real. Going through stuff like that, I proved you could make it without football. Maybe someone can see my energy align with their energy.
“I don’t walk by Coach Cohen’s office that day, who knows what happens. Coach Cohen didn’t even know my name. Robert was on the team at the time, and when Coach Cohen looked at me and asked me what was happening, I had to tell him. I thought if I didn’t open my mouth, no one was going to help me.
“I don’t walk by Cohen’s office that day, I’m not here. I would have been sucked up by the streets, I would have killed my father, or my father would have killed me, or my brother would have killed my father to protect me. That 100 percent would have happened.”
Andre and Robert spent time in two foster homes (one, Brenda Cotton, who Andre still speaks to today), before Andre and Robert were legally placed with their paternal grandmother, Lee Odom, who died in 2017, but not before seeing Andre graduate college.
“I give Cohen and my grandmother all of the credit,” Odom said. “I think the most important thing is you have to care, because not many people care unless you have something to offer. It’s a process of building confidence and building inspiration. A lot of these kids don’t have that.”
After looking for a direction after graduate school, Odom bounced around from working at a bank, to working for a small period of time at WIP. Then he became a graduate assistant at Temple, before working in the personnel department and switching to scouting for the Chicago Bears for three years.
“You have to understand the rocky road Andre took to get where he is, because he started late as a graduate assistant with Temple and at the Bears,” Cohen said.
Odom was introduced to the agent business by William Wesley, Odom’s uncle, mentor and confidante. He interned under Wesley for a year. Wesley taught him the fine points of the people business. It was Wesley who opened the door for Odom with mega-agency CAA for three years (2017-19), where he made serious inroads before jumping to Athletes First in 2020 as a certified NFL agent the last two years.
Sometime Thursday morning, Odom will roll out of a comfy bed in some swanky Cleveland hotel suite, walk over to the mirror and remind himself of how fortunate he is.
He still does it privately. Maybe he’ll appreciate the plush rug under his toes. Maybe he’ll take the time to bask in the silence around him.
“I never said this to anyone before, but I understand why my mother left us,” Odom admitted. “She got out of that hell, and I don’t blame her for it, when I look back at everything me and Robert survived.
“At least once or twice a week, I’ll look at the mirror just to remind myself, ‘I shouldn’t be here.’ I would have been killed by my father, or been killed in the streets. That’s a fact.
“I have a lot to be grateful for. I have a lot of people to thank. I can look at my kids and know the chain is broken. My kids and my family won’t have to go through the hell I did. The players I represent won’t ever have to go through the hell I did.”
Sometime Thursday night, Cohen, Clark, McClain and maybe even Vicki Oswald, will channel hop and possibly catch Odom back in the green room at the NFL Draft. Odom will no doubt be on the phone, wearing a serious look and making life-changing calls.
And they’ll smile.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has been writing for PhillyVoice since its inception in 2015 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.