Late last year, Mason Ashe found himself at a crossroads. The sports agent and attorney had spent nearly two decades establishing himself as a major independent player — most recently as founder and president of Ashe Sports and Entertainment Consulting — in a field dominated by large organizations. He had represented high-profile clients, negotiated more than 250 contracts and twice earned a spot on Sports Illustrated's roster of the most influential minority figures in sports. But there was something he wasn't doing, and it had begun to frustrate him.
"My marketing and managing had helped my clients generate a heck of a lot of income," Ashe says, "but not wealth. I had nothing to do with the next phase of their lives, which is: What do you do with all that income?" He had seen firsthand the story that plays out all too often in the sports and entertainment worlds: A rising star burns through a contract, acquires an expensive entourage and a taste for the good life, and then finds his or her career ending after five years, perhaps 10, with nothing on the other side.
"Think about it," Ashe says. "It's the natural thing to do. You're young and talented, you are constantly told that you are indestructible and that you are the greatest thing ever to hit the Earth. You're off for six months of the year, and you've got multiple millions in the bank. What 23-year-old is going to say, 'Let's see, I've got a couple of million dollars, I'm gonna stay home, cut the grass and worry about my retirement'?"
That, Ashe decided, would be his next mission — "to continue to negotiate lucrative contracts for people in the sports and entertainment industries, but also to play a bigger role in helping people create wealth and protect it and pass it on." One way to do that may be to add estate planning to the services he offers to clients. "I look at my focus now and what I did for the last 18 years as a progression," he says. "It's another stage of my journey." The origins of that journey aren't hard for Ashe to pinpoint. He has always enjoyed "helping talented people share their gifts," he says, "and the topic of wealth has always fascinated me — not only generating the income, but translating that income into net worth." But he was first exposed to "real wealth" at Hamilton.
Growing up a middle-class kid on racially divided Staten Island, Ashe arrived on the Hill prepared for the racial and class anxieties he detected within hours of his arrival at Dunham in 1981, an African-American in a sea of white faces. "I realized that I was going to have to deal in a positive way with the unfamiliarity that some individuals might feel with who I was," he says. "I told myself, 'I can't take this personally or I'm going to have a miserable time.'"
Instead of withdrawing, the young Mason Ashe engaged. He built a network of support, eventually turned his interests from pre-med and basketball to psychology and jazz, and by his junior year was immersed in "the diversity of the liberal arts" with professors such as Bob Simon. "He gave of his time and really helped me understand a liberal arts education," Ashe says. Following that year, he was recruited by Hamilton alumni for a Procter & Gamble internship that introduced Ashe to key concepts in sales and brand management and would soon provide a first career step. He later arrived at University at Buffalo Law School to find that another Hamilton alumnus was serving there as associate dean — Alan Carrel '64, now vice dean at Buffalo. "He recommended me for a job as a grad assistant my second and third year, right on the spot," Ashe recalls. "I'm thinking, 'This is Hamilton — what a network!'"
Ashe decided early to contribute to that network as well as draw on it. He joined the Alumni Council and eventually was elected to the Board of Trustees as an alumni trustee, "something that had looked like a dream opportunity when I was a student," he says. "I had no idea what it meant back then, but I noticed that when the trustees came to campus they were spiffing the place up, so I knew they had to be important."
In addition to his work with athletes and entertainers, Ashe has expanded his activities to include teaching and writing. For three years an adjunct professor of sports law at the University of Central Florida's DeVos Sport Business Management graduate program, Ashe finds his classroom time rewarding, "especially with foreign students, who are really absorbing every word because they're going to go and apply it immediately. These are people who are going to be athletic directors, sports agents, government advisors, presidents of franchises." His strengths as a teacher, he believes, are in his accessibility — "especially important with foreign students, who may not be fully at ease in the larger classroom environment" — and the sense of reality he brings. "I've got all those stories to draw on, and we can tie those in to the textbooks and make the principles come alive," he says. As a writer, Ashe has devoted four years to High Expectations, a book about his experiences as a student, attorney, agent and advisor from New York to Florida and in between — he is now based in the Washington, D.C., area — and he hopes to have a publisher by summer's end. The book is a nonfiction account of his career representing, at various times, such sports figures as Aaron Brooks, Rasheed Wallace, Stromile Swift and Jamila Wideman, along with musical artists and entertainers like Marcus Johnson, Christopher "Kid" Reid and Tommy Davidson. But it builds on personal experience to pay tribute to his mentors and to provide an insider's analysis of his profession. "I wanted to help people who have talent — whether it's academic, sports, music, whatever — benefit from their market value and protect their interests," he says. "That's always been my goal." Along the way, Ashe continues to count on Hamilton to keep him centered. "That walk through the glen has always served me because it gives me a point of reference," he says. "Hamilton has always been in my life, and I can always use it to measure how far I've come as a person."
What he does: The founder and president of Ashe Sports and Entertainment Consulting, he serves as agent and attorney for professional athletes and entertainers. He has twice been named by Sports Illustrated as one of the most influential minority figures in the sports world. Ashe is also adjunct professor of sports law at the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management graduate program.