Noted Sports Agent Speaks About His Career

Sports Reporter
Oregon Daily Emerald
University of Oregon

Through his 30-plus-year career, he has negotiated more than $1 billion worth of contracts. He has represented professional football players Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Ben Roethlisberger and boxer Lennox Lewis. He has also represented eight NFL No. 1 draft picks — tops in the sports agent industry.

Nationally recognized sports attorney Leigh Steinberg has played a large role in the convergence of sports and entertainment industries, and he shared his experiences and insights with about 200 students on campus Friday.

Steinberg, who spoke in the Lillis Business Complex, also talked about working as a sports agent and his work on the movie Jerry Maguire.

He spoke during the same weekend his alma mater, the University of California, played Oregon. Steinberg said the Duck football team has created positive publicity with billboards in New York and Los Angeles.

“It’s an incredibly dynamic program,” Steinberg added. “They’ve put themselves on the map.”

Steinberg is different from other agents because he requires clients to give back to society through clauses in their contracts. Clients have donated more than $60 million to charities nationwide. People receive help and athletes create a legacy, Steinberg said.

“Athletes have an incredible opportunity to make a impact for good in this world — to do charitable and community programs that enhance the communities they live in (and to) inspire young people,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg spoke of his media work, including his work with the Fox, Warner Brothers, ABC and HBO networks. He said students interested in sports marketing should look at all aspects of the sports industry, not just sports agency.

He built on a life experience during his role as technical advisor to Jerry Maguire, the 1996 blockbuster movie featuring Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise. In 2001, Steinberg filed a lawsuit in federal court against ex-partner David Dunn of Athletes First, claiming he was preparing a blackmail scheme to discredit him and steal 40 of his clients. Dunn and employee Brian Murphy accused Steinberg of incompetence and erratic behavior, according to a 2002 article in ESPN The Magazine.

Then part of Steinberg, Moorad & Dunn, Inc. (SMD), Steinberg received a $44.6 million verdict in 2002. The jury found Dunn and Murphy guilty of unfair competition.

Steinberg now runs Leigh Steinberg Enterprises.

On Friday, he criticized the NBA’s new 19-year-old age limit for players.

The NBA age limit forces individuals to attend school when they don’t want to, he said. Those student-athletes then take the fewest classes possible.

The rule has no basis in a free society, said Steinberg, who added that he’d rather focus on helping dedicated student-athletes graduate.

“You ought to have players on a college campus that want to be college athletes,” Steinberg said. “That way you can regulate them. You can tell them, ‘Don’t take money from agents -‘ There are enforceable standards. (Students are) motivated. They want to be there.”

Steinberg also discussed Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens, who played in last season’s Super Bowl only 50 days after spraining his right ankle and fracturing a bone in his lower leg. Owens reportedly signed a waiver releasing his team any legal liability.

His mistake came when Owens publicly demanded a new contract from Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, Steinberg said.

Owens didn’t get a contract, and was recently suspended indefinitely.

“Terrell Owens is entirely within his right to request a new contract — privately, quietly,” Steinberg said. “The minute that you stick an owner up against the wall publicly, you are ensuring you won’t get a contract offer.”

Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams — a Steinberg client whose odd behavior combined with brief retirement sparked massive media coverage — is a nice guy with a big heart, Steinberg said.

Williams, like anyone else, doesn’t have to play football, Steinberg said. But Steinberg didn’t like that the athlete retired right before training camp in 2004, or Williams’ statements defending his marijuana use. Williams returned this season after a four-game suspension for a positive drug test.