Their names do not appear in headlines, they are not listed in box scores and few people know them by sight.

But Donald Dell, Rick Bennett, Guy Draper, John Perazich and Scott Lang - the major sports representatives (please, don't call them agents) in town - are well-known to most of Washington's professional athletes.

How these men perform at the bargaining table often determines the fate of an athlete, and sometimes a team. And given the magnitude of the business of professional sport, some of the hardest, toughest ball is not played on the field but in the office of the general manager and owner.

The return: a fee, of course; the respect and friendship of a client, and often the scorn of the team and town.

Bennett, an attorney who Rep- Metcalf in his switch from the St. Louis Cardinals to Toronto of the Canadian Football League, is distressed about "agents" who give gifts to athletes before they have even entered into negotiations with a club.

Bennet, an attorney who re- resents about 30 athletes, charges that most National Football League club owners did not make offers for option-playout Metcalf because they want to keep salaries depressed."

"They are using the new labor contract to do that. They used Metcalf as an example. They now can tell other players that if they would not give up two No. 1 draft choices for a player of his stature, they will not do it for anyone else.

"If they had offered him $200,000 or more in salary they would have had to compensate the Cardinals with two No. 1 draft choices."

Melcalf is estimated to have received a seven-year contract for about $250,000 annually from Toronto. The Baltimore Colts reportedly were disinclined to give up two first-round choices, as well as that much money, for Metcalf.

Bennett says he has seen a code of ethics suggested by the NFL Players Union Association and is in favor of it. The Player's union is organizing attorneys and/or agents to be called the Association of Representatives of Professional Athletes.

Dell, an attorney, represents primarily tennis players. But he also represents Mike Butler of the Green Bay Packers, Moses Malone and John Lucas of the Houston Rockets, Adrian Dantley of the Los Angeles Lakers, Maurice Lucas of the Portland Trail Blazers, Larry Kenon of the San Antonio Spirits, Marques Johnson of the Milwaukee Bucks, Bobby Jones of the Denver Nuggets and Bernard King of the New Jersey Nets. Sonny Jurgensen is a client as a sportcaster.

Draper represents Mike Thomas, Dennis Johnson and Frank Grant of the Redskins, and two former Redskins who are now free agents, Ralph Nelson and Spencer Thomas.

Attorney Perazich, who used to represent Larry Brown and Herb Mul-key of the Redskins, now has Larry Wright of the Bullets, kevin Porter of the New York Nets, Dwight Scales of the Los Angeles Rams and former Colt Kevin Cunningham of Howard University, who expects to be signed by the New England Patriots.

Attorney Lang represents Bobby Dandridge and Tom Henderson of the Bullets, among others.

A spokesman for the Washington Capitals hockey team said none of their players has a Washington representative; that most of them are handled by agents in New York, Boston, Toronto and Montreal.

Dell endorses the objective of Ed Garvey, the NFL Players Association executive director, who wants to organize player representatives and establish a code of ethics.

"The code is badly needed," Dell said. "As an attorney, of course, I'm already bound by a canon of ethicks and the D.C. Bar Association. Garvey is dead right.

"A lot of agents or representatives, if they are not lawyers, are not under a bar association or ethics code and do what they want. Of course, lawyers can be 'bad,' too. Remember Watergate?

"What amuses me is that if an attorney represents a player, he is referred to as an 'agent,' but if he represents management he is a 'lawyer' or 'attorney.' The 'agent' image is built up in the press.

"The athlete rarely understands the difference. It is a sad thing in sports. You find people who do awful things. Three or four bad apples can ruin it for everyone else," continued Dell.

"Recruiting causes a lot of problems. You've got guys who get 16- and 17-year-olds and say to them, 'Come with me and I'll get you a million dollars. Here's a $500 loan.'

"By the time we (Dell's firm) get a player, he has been recommended to us by a coach. That's the only way we represent an athlete; so we feel pretty secure.

"Morgon Wooten (De Matha High coach) and Joe Gallagher (St. John's High Coach) are friends of mine. I have Kenny Carr and Adrian Dantley of the Lakers because they were recommended by Wooten. Of course, we have to do a good job for them."

Draper said, "I was talking about an organization for athletes' representatives 3 1/2 years ago. It was my idea. When I talked with the players' association about policing agents, it fell on deaf ears at first. It was the same the next year. I was probably the first to propose it."

Perazich said athletes constitute about 15 percent to 20 percent of his clients. He said that, "Pro football was a plantation-type society until the new contract negotiated by the players association and recent law suits loosened football's iron hand.

"Pro basketball has been better to negotiate with because it is much newer to the 'big time,' coming up in the last 10 years, with even newer people from the American Basketball Association.

"Of course, there are fewer players on basketball teams to deal with, 11, to 45 in football. The general managers, coaches and owners in basbetball are honest and straightforward."

Perazich said it was difficult to negotiate for Larry Brown who stayed away from the Redskin training camp before the 1973 season - because of unusual influences.

"It was the season after the Redskins' first visit to the Super Bowl. The fans wanted to get on with the new season. He held out for 10 days. There was pressure from his team-mates, urged on by club officials.

"The logic has always been to get the athlete into the camp on the theory that he wouldn't leave, like a kid in a candy store," Perazich said.

"We first met with George Allen and Tim Temerario (former executive assistant to the couch).

"They passed the buck to Edward Bennett Williams (club president) and, after a half-dozen meetings, we were satisfied with a contract."

Perazich said that he offered to renegotiate Kevin Porter's contract three years ago, when Porter was still with the Bullets. "They didn't want to pay him his true worth. We waited 16 months. He played his last year here for less money than he could have got on a new contract, and then tripled his salary after one year in Detroit.

"The Bullets are very pleasant. Bob Ferry is one of the most straightforward general managers, but the general managers usually don't have complete control of the budget. Management gives them a budget to work under."

Perazich was asked what an athlete should do about representatives.

"I would check with the players union if I were an athlete. They get reports on 'good' and 'bad' agents."

He said he lets the athlete decide on how to pay for his services, $75 an hour or a flat 5 percent fee in football, 4 percent in basketball.

"A percentage has the most appeal. On the contingent-fee case the lawyer takes the gamble, in the case the player doesn't make the team. But I also offer tax preparation and other services and some prefer to pay by the hour.

"I'm perfectly comfortable either way. Most select the contingent fee. I do it in personal-injury cases. I charge the same rate for anything - divorce, sports and so forth."

What about the possibility of unhappy clients?

"I don't know of any; I hope I don't have any."

Lang is a former executive secretary of the credentials committee of the Democratic National Committee.

He said he has been active in lobbying for player protection in the agent system.

"Some athletes have had two or three agents before coming to me," he said. "They came to be unsatisfied . . . burned. I've seen an awful lot of neglect and abuse. Something has to be done about it.

"Ed Garvey's operation (forming an organization of representatives of athletes) means no endorsement of its members; it just means they are registered with the players' union."

Lang said some of the problems begin at the college level. "The NCAA has all kinds of rules," he said, "but once a player gets in college, by and large he is ignored as to whether he is going to go pro.

"The system allows the athlete to become the prey of the 'quick-buck' guys. They tell an athlete, 'I'll get you a $500,000 contract and you pay me $50,000 or $25,000. The fees are unconscionable. It's a discouraging situation. You see a pipeline from the colleges to those guys. The NCAA should have a workship on this."

Lang said he has 22 athlete-clients. He represents some in negotiations only, but also offers career planning, help in obtaining offseason work and setting up summer camps, speaking engagements and inner-city work.

"I charge the least of anyone in the business," he said. "Regardless of the problems, there is a 5 per cent ceiling, often less. It depends on the time involved, uniqueness of the situation, and the quality of the work required."