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"THE AGENT": Long Live The Real King
on January 21, 2014
Leigh Steinberg's memoir and second book, "The Agent," details his rise to the pinnacle of the sports agent profession. We read about his life growing up in Los Angeles as the grandson of a well known Hollywood insider who ran Hillcrest Country Club. Leigh starts his memoir in Los Angeles, chronicling his life as a youngster, to his becoming student body president of Berkeley during a revolutionary era in the late 1960's.
In this revealing memoir, Leigh recounts stories burned in his mind that give a glimpse into the dizzying life he has led. At times, it feels a bit like "Forrest Gump," in the sense that Leigh consistently finds himself in the middle of Americana over the course of his life.
The odds of a human being born are akin to winning the lottery. The odds may not be ever in our favor of being born at all. The odds of being the dorm counselor to a future #1 NFL draft pick? Slim. The odds that player will choose you, an amateurish law student with no NFL negotiating experience, to represent them? Astronomical. Yet it happened. Leigh's first client was Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski, the #1 pick in the 1975 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. You read that right. Leigh happened to fall into sports representation because he was Bartkowski's RA. At the time, this seemed to be a fluke of epic proportions. We come to learn Leigh had ambitions of being a public defender or a politician. Not a sports agent.
It is truly remarkable to read Leigh's anecdotes about the sports representation field at that time and to see how much has changed in 40 years. There wasn't much of an NFL agent "industry" in 1975. Jameis Winston certainly will not be choosing his dorm counselor to be his agent next year. There are now literally hundreds of established and reputable agents already circling him like vultures. In 1975, there were hardly any.
Now let's talk about the downfall. Leigh went bankrupt a few years ago. How is this possible? When someone squanders millions of dollars, do they even deserve more attention? Should you even read this book? I believe so. This is a cautionary tale we can all learn from. Remember Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and it melted his wings? Or Odysseus, whose pride and arrogance led to a sea of devastation in his wake? Here's a modern day example. While there are certainly revealing moments of joy and excitement, there are equally painful moments too as Leigh recounts his struggle with alcoholism.
We learn from Leigh's dramatic fall how hard it can be to stay atop a profession for 2 decades. Leigh's first book was called "Winning With Integrity." Drew Rosenhaus? That dude's book is called "A Shark Never Sleeps." And in case it isn't clear before reading "The Agent," it will become clear what personality the majority of sports agents have. Here's a hint. Sharks.
Arguably, from the early 80's until 2000, Leigh was the #1 sports agent. Not just in the NFL. That includes the MLB, NBA and NHL. The irony of it all is that Leigh was not toppled by any outside NFL agency. Leigh's greatest threat, like in any great Shakespearean tragedy, came from within his ranks. It was his protégé and former partner. A person whom Leigh once referred to as his best friend. The person who got his start in the business because Leigh hired him. This wound up being the person who committed the ultimate betrayal when he stole the better half of Leigh's clients and formed a new agency. The person: David Dunn. David Dunn? You don't remember him from The Lion King? He was Uncle Scar.
As it turns out, the agency/speakeasy Dunn "founded" still exists. Working alongside his hyenas, the co-founders/conspirators of Dunn's speakeasy, they have stayed out of the spotlight well. Want to find out more? Google David Dunn and Leigh Steinberg and see who the court sided with.
There's a vindictiveness and callousness inherent in agents like Dunn that Leigh thankfully does not possess. However, this lack of a killer instinct proves to be Leigh's Achilles Heel. Leigh demonstrates a naivety that is to his detriment in the agent world, and the sharks end up winning. After Dunn leaves, Leigh becomes a full blown alcoholic, enters rehab, and loses all of his money. His fault. Nobody to blame but himself.
Leigh managed to keep some of his clients after the defection long enough to start Steinberg, Tollner & Moon. Mark Brunell and Ricky Williams among others were clients who stayed loyal. Ben Roethlisberger was the big new client they signed. Ultimately, Leigh's drinking and pension for being a liability because of this drinking caused another rift. In 2006, the Tollners split off and formed their own agency. However, in contrast to Uncle Scar's agency, the Tollners, Chase, and Nima are all class. They told Leigh they were leaving ahead of time. They parted ways honorably and on amicable terms.
By the end of the book, the lesson seems to be that in this life, we have the chance to do good. And we should. And it doesn't matter if nobody else is doing it. And that is what separates Leigh. He's not a corporation. He's just a guy trying to do good. Unfortunately, he has also been his own worst enemy. Aside from that Scar guy.
So where does Leigh go from here? He's now nearly 4 years sober. Impressively, he has a new agency and has another shot to do the right thing by clients. Of course, he's burned many bridges with former friends, business associates, employees, and family members. It will come down to what people are willing to forgive.
What cannot be stolen from him is the resume. The first pick in the draft 8 times. Second pick 7 times. 60 first round draft picks. 7 Hall of Famers. His QB's won 5 different Super Bowls.
More importantly, it's the good that he has done that will ultimately be his true legacy. Homes for the Holidays. Crescent Moon. Forever Young. Derrick Thomas's 3rd and Long. Kicks for Critters. The list goes on. Would any of these charities or foundations been created without Leigh's guidance and emphasis on role modeling as a requirement for his clients?
If Leigh can accomplish all of this with a major drinking problem, I for one am excited to see what he will do now that he's sober.