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Friday, August 30, 2013

Leigh Steinberg: The Real-Life Jerry Maguire

Earlier this summer I had the chance to interview sports agent Leigh Steinberg. While he may be best known for representing NFL players such as Warren Moon, Thurman Thomas, Steve Young and Troy Aikman, he has also worked in other sports, including baseball.

Born and raised in California, Steinberg attended Cal-Berkeley, where he met his future first client, quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who was one of his residents when he was a residence hall adviser. The football player became the first pick in the draft following his college days, and his RA wound up getting the chance to represent him.

Called the “real-life Jerry Maguire,” Steinberg was the original super agent. In addition to his work representing athletes, he is also an accomplished speaker and writer. He is certainly one of the most interesting people in the world of sports.

Continue reading for an inside look at his career.

Leigh Steinberg Interview:

How did you first become interested in becoming a sports agent?
: There was not an established area of sports law when I was in law school. There was no guaranteed right for a player to have representation and teams could refuse to deal with an agent. I was a dorm counselor at UC-Berkeley in the early 1970's and the Cal freshman football team was housed in my dorm. One of the students, Steve Bartkowski, the quarterback, was drafted in 1975 as the first pick in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, and he asked me to represent him. I had traveled the world since graduating in January 1974 and had not started my practice yet. We were able to negotiate the largest rookie contract in the history of the NFL, eclipsing Joe Namath and OJ Simpson's contracts.

Who was your first client, and how hard was it to convince them to sign with you?: It was only the second year that I went through the process of recruiting new clients. By profiling the type of athlete I wanted to represent--a role model with good values--it narrowed the focus to athletes that truly would be excited about the charitable and community approach

Which sport did you prefer to work with and why?: I have represented high round draft picks in the NBA,NFL, MLB, and boxers, ice skaters, gymnasts; and they are all unique. The NFL is the nation's passion currently and so I focused on quarterbacks, and at one point represented half of the starting QB's in the NFL.

What do you consider to be the defining moment of your career, or the one you are most proud of?: Standing at the podium in Canton, Ohio, delivering the presentation speech for Warren Moon's induction into the Hall of Fame was a culmination of everything I tried to achieve.

Warren was my client for 23 years, an extraordinary role model and charitable leader, and the first African-American quarterback in the modern era to be inducted. Troy Aikman also was inducted, and I remembered the excitement of the day in Pasadena when he was selected MVP of the Super Bowl.

Standing on the field when Steve Young won his first Super Bowl and exorcised the shadow of Joe Montana was heartwarming.

If you could do things over, what is something you would change about your career?: I wish I had started even earlier than the 90s crusading on the concussion issue and player safety. It took me ten years to realize that athletes were in denial about their long term health and to really help their life after football I needed to try and make the game safer.

Can you talk a bit about your philanthropy and how you passed that along to your clients?: My dad had two core values; one, treasure relationships-especially family; and two, take responsibility for trying to improve conditions in the world. Asking athletes to retrace their roots to the high school, collegiate and professional communities and set up scholarship funds and foundations that could make a difference was key. Athletes can be positive role models and trigger positive imitative behavior. My clients have raised almost $800 million dollars for charities and raised awareness about societal issues. It is the nexus for a well-rounded approach which will prepare them for second career.

What are you up to these days?: I am getting ready to relaunch a new sports and entertainment company that will represent star talent and have a marketing arm. It can market teams, leagues, corporations and any high profile individual. We will also create a virtual studio to help produce or consult with motion pictures, television, video games, apps that bring fans closer to sports on the internet, mobile phone, tablets and every platform of content supply.

I also am working on a Sporting Green Alliance that will take sustainable technology to stadia, arena and practice fields at the high school, collegiate and pro levels to drop carbon emissions and energy costs and transform those venues into educational platforms so that millions of fans can see a waterless urinal or a solar panel and think about how to integrate the concepts into their own homes and businesses.

I have turned in the first draft of an autobiography to St. Martin's Press which will come out later in the year. I speak around the country and write for publications like

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

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