Leigh Steinberg has had quite the career.
The famed sports agent has represented eight No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks, more than 60 NFL first round picks and countless other professional athletes across sports such as basketball, baseball and hockey, among others.
At his peak, he was the most visible sports agent in the business, credited with helping to revolutionize the field of sports agency and serving as the inspiration behind the hit 1996 film ‘Jerry Maguire’ — in which Steinberg was portrayed by Tom Cruise.
At his lows, Steinberg was an agent without any clients, struggling with alcohol abuse.
Now, in his seventh year of sobriety and three years removed from receiving funding to restart his agency, Steinberg has rebuilt his career at Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, which currently represents 10 clients, including rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch — a first round draft choice of the Denver Broncos.
Steinberg has also continued to work on other ventures outside of client representation, including projects on anti-bullying initiatives and concussion awareness, along with a book and film and television consultation.
Though Steinberg says he has spoken at colleges throughout his more than four decade-long career — about his profession and its main tenets — he has opted for a new, additional approach over the past couple of years, one that he admits is more rewarding: “Leigh Steinberg’s Agent Academy.”
“I’m deluged with requests and queries and resumes from people wanting to get into the sports industry,” Steinberg said in an interview with The Daily. “They come in by the thousands. If you were to go to college campuses — and I’ve spoken on more than 80 campuses — you would find that the number one career path involves sports. Yet no one gives a practical education that helps someone with the core skills that they need to be effective.
“So we were looking to try and see if we could be helpful to a new generation of sports agents and professionals who have ethics, values and ideals and truly are going to bring energy and passion to sports and to train them the right way.”
A one-day educational seminar on the field of sports agentry, the Agent Academy dives into everything Steinberg believes an agent must learn and master.
For instance, he puts his students through a recruiting exercise where they must practice recruiting an athlete and the athlete’s parents. Other exercises focus on negotiation techniques, marketing and branding through social media. There’s even a segment that teaches participants how to deal with a situation in which their client has gotten in some sort of trouble.
“It’s fun and I think the participants get a great one-day education and everything you need to know about how to be successful,” Steinberg said. “Hopefully we’re bringing value and jumpstarting a whole new generation.”
Perhaps the most crucial part of Steinberg’s approach as an agent and teacher is his emphasis on using athletes to create change.
“My dad had two core values,” Steinberg said. “One was to treasure relationships, especially with family, and the second was to try to make a meaningful difference in the world and help people who couldn’t help themselves. I found that in this field, because of the power of celebrity status for athletes, that they can really trigger imitative behavior.
“One of the core philosophies that I’ve had since 1975 is the athlete as a role model. Going back and setting up a high school scholarship, a foundation at the professional level, all of which lay a foundation for the player’s second career.”
The next academy takes place July 16 at the University of Michigan — an institution Steinberg has many ties to.
His first first-rounder from the school was John Anderson, a linebacker drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1978. Then, he went on to represent Jim Harbaugh, who was taken in the first round by the Chicago Bears in 1987, Desmond Howard and Amani Toomer.
Steinberg has also spoke before at both the business and law schools at Michigan, experiences that influenced his decision to hold an academy in Ann Arbor.
He also has the added benefit of being able to visit his friend and former client, Harbaugh, while in town.
“Jim’s an original,” Steinberg said. “You have to start with the fact that he’s really bright and intellectually curious. He loves to learn, loves to delve into a whole variety of issues. Jim could talk politics, economics, culture, a whole series of things. He’s got a killer sense of humor (and) I’ve always found him to be really warm. He was a great team player with competitive fire and resilience. One day he called the Jim Rome Show and got in the Smack-Off, which very few professional athletes do.
“There was no question he was going to transform Michigan because you take every part of what being a head coach is comprised of — he’s a devastatingly good recruiter, he can listen and adjust and never gives up. He can speak well to the public, alums like him, (and) he’s got so much toughness in him that it will elevate every player’s performance. So it’s no big surprise that he’s been a success everywhere he has gone.”