Leigh Steinberg: The Super Agent – Part Two
In Part Two of my conversation with Leigh Steinberg we discuss what led to his downward spiral as he fell from the top of the sports world. At one point, according to several sports publications, Steinberg had been rated as the 16th Most Powerful Person in sports and sixth in the NFL. But after legal battles with former partner David Dunn, sobriety issues, drunk driving arrests and divorce, Steinberg ended up having to file for bankruptcy protection in 2012. In his book The Agent Steinberg gives readers an in-depth look at the struggles he’s faced in the past ten years.
We discuss some of those struggles as we continue our conversation.
600AM ESPN/ElPaso: You were on top of the sports world in the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s—what took place in your life that changed it all?
Steinberg: In the 2000’s I had done 60 first-round draft picks and the very first pick in the draft eight times, and led a charmed life. I started having some personal events that threw me for a loop. The first was my father dying a long death with cancer, next two boys that were diagnosed with an incurable eye disease, then we lost a home to flooding and ultimately at the end of all that I got divorced. So I felt powerless, like Gulliver on the beach, tethered down with little Ephesians sticking forks in him and unfortunately I turned to alcohol.
600AM ESPN/ElPaso: One of the great lines in your new book simply reads, “Dad never quit and neither will I.” How did your dad influence your role as an agent?
Steinberg: I’ve had mentors my whole life and my father was a powerful one; he was a rock and I watched him in life. I think all of us have a role to play in passing on knowledge. It’s the opportunity to take a young person with talent and values and stimulate the best in them and to try to stop the pitfalls an athlete can get caught in. Part of why I speak at colleges is to try to show young people that they can have it all. They can take those ideals and principles that are important to them and use them in their work.
I think at the end of it, all you’re left with in life is the quality of the relationships you had, whether you were a good father, a good son, a good friend, a good brother or sister, and then the good you did in the world. The rest of it is all ephemeral. Newspaper clippings fade and honors are like sandcastles on the beach; the next wave comes in and they get swept away. What’s enduring is having a relationship with a god or a higher power that connects you and being able to have fulfillment in personal relationships and a sense that this world is a better place because you were in it.
600AM ESPN/ElPaso: In reading your book, one of your personal crusades involves increasing awareness, research and prevention of concussions in sports. Why are you so passionate about this issue?
Steinberg: I think we have to continue to work on that issue because I now believe that every time an offensive lineman hits a defensive lineman at the inception of every play it produces a low-level concussive event. You can have an offensive lineman walk out of football with 10,000 sub-concussive hits, none of which were diagnosed, none of which he’s aware of, but the aggregate of which is much more harmful to the brain than getting knocked out three times. The reason that’s different is it’s one thing to know that an athlete will have aches and pains in different joints from playing a collision sport and they may have problems leaning over to pick their child at age 40, but it’s quite another thing not to be able to recognize that child.
600AM ESPN/ElPaso: You’ve represented seven NFL Hall of Famers along with the hundreds of other athletes—who was your favorite player to represent?
Steinberg: Well I went 23 years with Warren Moon. We started out in Canada in a time when the NFL was not excited about players in the so-called thinking positions being black. He spent six years in Canada and ended up having three leagues come after him. He was the first free agent in the history of football to come in the high level at a critical position and got the largest contract. Then in 2006 he paid me the greatest honor of having me give his presenters speech at the Hall of Fame.
600AM ESPN/ElPaso: Finally, as you make a comeback into sports representation, what can you, Leigh Steinberg, offer a player as he tries to take his game to the professional level?
Steinberg: I think that with the right motivated player with a little bit of idealism, that we can first of all help him in the process of getting him drafted high. Football, for example, now has a second season of scouting that can be every bit as determinative as to where they go in the draft as their whole college career did. Remember the draft is a projection of what a player will be like for the next 10 to 12 years. It’s not a merit badge for conspicuous college performance. So all those decisions in scouting, does someone play in an all-star game. Does someone just go to the combine and just take a physical or do the drill, or is that better done on their pro-scouting day? All of those aspects are something that allowed me to get a series of players to the very top of the draft. Then it’s the ability to mentor a player so that he understands as a rookie what’s expected of them. How to defer to the veterans, how not to do endorsements at the very beginning so as to turn veteran players jealous and coaches thinking that football is not their right or first priority. One way to gage successful representation is how many players do you have that are in the hall of fame? Because that means through the whole system they were able to be productive at a higher level. In football we have seven players that are in the hall of fame. If you can have a player who reaches that ultimate peak while at the same time having a good family, a good charitable disposition and then a great second career. That’s doing what’s important which is to fulfill the hopes and dreams of a client.
Steinberg represents former Texas and current SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert in this year’s NFL Draft. Both can be considered re-building projects. Steinberg is trying to reclaim his spot in the world of sports and Gilbert is trying to take his first steps to create one in the NFL. I’m betting both find a place and success.