Leigh Steinberg: The Legend Behind Jerry Maguire
It’s this simple. Leigh Steinberg is a living legend in his business, which places him in truly rarified air. His life, and his four decades-long career as a sports agent, have been so richly varied, so replete with triumphs, setbacks and re-emergences, that he is a treasure trove ripe for exploration. And that we did. Throomers is exceptionally grateful to Mr. Steinberg for both his transparency and largesse on behalf of our readers.
Who a man ultimately becomes can often be traced to his roots. This is certainly the case here. Leigh Steinberg was born and raised in Los Angeles, which may begin to explain his ‘reach for the stars’ personality and driving work ethic.
His father and mother were a teacher and librarian respectively, which accounts for his penchant for intellectualism and eloquent communication skills, and his habitually being in the service of others.
How many can say that when at college, in this case UC Berkeley, they were Resident Advisor to Steve Wozniak, a founding member of Apple Computer? Just Leigh Steinberg, we imagine. Whether he suggested to Wozniak that he and best friend, Steve Jobs, should join forces and found what would become the first trillion dollar public company in world history, we weren’t able to clarify. But, it wouldn’t shock us.
We know this for sure. At the height of the Vietnam War, this fledgling entrepreneur founded an alternative, moderate political party at protest-happy UC Berkeley called ‘Unity.’ He was then elected president of the university’s traditional student government, before resigning his post in the midst of a cheating scandal. He graduated UC Berkeley successfully in 1973 having earned both a political science degree and a J.D. Thus began what can only be called Steinberg’s incredibly successful but topsy-turvy life as a young adult.
Along with two partners, he soon opened what became a flourishing sports agency, providing professional athletes essential and previously lacking representation. This idea alone broke new ground. His firm successfully represented more than $3 billion in NFL contracts, at a time when that was more than just pocket money. Actually, that’s still quite a bit of money in 2019. The old saying applies, ‘If I had that money I’d burn mine.’
Steinberg represented an NFL record eight (8) players picked 1st in the draft. Particularly notable clients during this early period were QB’s Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Ryan Leaf. The former two are NFL Hall of Famers and top-shelf TV broadcasters. The latter of the three, Leaf, is still known today as one of the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
Interestingly, this triumvirate represents what appears as a recurring theme in our subject’s life. The breaking of new ground, the reaching of the summit, and then the ensuing and seemingly inevitable controversy and descent. The peaks and valleys of a life fully-lived. Risks taken, rewarded or otherwise. The Yin and the Yang.
Perhaps this is a story of a conflicted genius? One who reaches life’s pinnacles too easily and is never satisfied once he’s there? Perhaps certainty and comfort just aren’t his thing? Rather, he needs to be immersed in the game, in the action, navigating uncertainty, for better and worse. This is just one armchair psychologist and writer’s rank speculation, but interesting to contemplate nonetheless.
After a more than two decade run, Steinberg’s agency was sold to an industry consolidator in 1999 for a reported $120 million. Soon after the sale, one of Steinberg’s former partners wooed sixty (60) NFL clients away from the new agency owner, which began years of contentious litigation. There again is the Yin and the Yang.
It’s not surprising to hear that the young, appealing Steinberg (a.k.a “superagent”), became a Hollywood darling along the way. He earned screen credits for such films as Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday, For the Love of the Game, starring Kevin Costner, and the 1996 smash hit, Jerry Maguire. Yes, that Jerry Maguire.
This six-time Oscar nominated film was inspired by Leigh Steinberg’s life and featured him as technical consultant. We all have the two iconic lines from this classic film burned into our psyche. They are, “You had me at hello,” and “Show me the money!” Both have earned their rightful place as a part of celluloid Americana.
The film also helped vault lead actor, Tom Cruise, Oscar-winning supporting actor, Cuba Gooding Jr., and lead actress, Rene Zellweger, to Hollywood’s ascending star status.
Steinberg’s numerous cable and network television credits include consultant to HBO’s successful sitcom, Arli$$. His television appearances are too copious to mention here. Suffice to say he was exceedingly productive and one of the hottest sports-related celebrity personalities for an extended period of the middle years of his career. This momentum came to a screeching halt soon after when Steinberg wrestled with more than his share of difficult circumstances.
He writes about these challenges openly in his 2014 memoir, The Agent, which we refer you to if you’re interested.
As for challenges and personal setbacks, what entrepreneur hasn’t had them? What risk-taker hasn’t? What ground-breaker hasn’t? What human being hasn’t? What throomer hasn’t? The difference is Steinberg’s were perhaps more severe, and they played out more publicly than they otherwise would have with a less prominent person. Celebrity cuts both ways, as the saying goes.
Our mission at Throomers is to tell the facts and the truth, certainly, but with a particular focus on celebrating successful people, unique life stories, life-enhancing products and services, positivity and philanthropy. We particularly celebrate and honor those who’ve stared down life’s difficulties and stayed resilient, enthusiastic, motivated, and then have risen above such conditions time and again.
Leigh Steinberg not only rings every one of those bells, the chimes are deafening. He has exhibited sustained grit, resilience, beneficence, optimism and an indefatigable zest for life. This guy will simply not give up, no matter what. That makes him a model throomer.
Looking ahead, we don’t expect any of that to change. One of our fundamental beliefs at Throomers is that the best days of our lives remain ahead, starting with today. Steinberg happens to embody this spirit. He continues to represent and mentor notable professional athletes in his role as sports agent, including rising NFL star QB, Patrick Mahomes II. He writes weekly business and sports-related columns for magazines and daily newspapers. And most importantly, he continues to positively impact communities and support charitable causes again too numerous to mention.
We were privileged to catch up with this man in constant motion and ask him our exclusive ‘Seven Questions.’ CLICK HERE to hear directly from the prolific, high-energy man himself.