Longtime sports agent Leigh Steinberg has represented the No. 1 NFL draft pick eight times, more than anyone else in the business. He served as a technical consultant for Jerry Maguire, allowing filmmaker Cameron Crowe to follow him around to learn about the life of a sports agent and ultimately inspiring the film’s title character. Steinberg even helped propel sports into the 21st century, pushing innovation and expansion online.
He also made it his mission to inspire his clients to use their fame and fortune to give back, and he made sure they thought about what they would do when their athletic careers ended.
The Center for Sports Leadership & Innovation brought Steinberg to campus on November 6, 2017, and in his introduction of Steinberg, CSLi founding director Daron Roberts said, “There are few agents that really embody what it means to help athletes move beyond their playing careers.”
Here are the top takeaways from Steinberg’s appearance.
1. “The worst part of my job is dealing with athletic injuries.”
The frequency and severity of concussions in football alarmed Steinberg well before the subject started making national headlines.
“I had a crisis of conscience. Can I represent players if they might be on the road to dementia?” Steinberg said.
Instead of simply ignoring the issue or convincing himself it wasn’t his responsibility, Steinberg held the first Player Safety Conference in 1994 and continued to fight for concussion awareness and research throughout his career.
“Some of you in your career will come to a critical juncture where you wonder whether the product or service that you’re involved in, where you’re spending your time is actually good for society,” Steinberg said. “And now what do you do?”
2. “Can you distinguish yourself from everybody else trying to break into sports?”
Steinberg asked the audience how many people in attendance were interested in working in sports and quite a few hands shot into the air.
He encouraged these aspiring sports professionals to think about all ways they could realize that dream.
“You can work for a team, a franchise, you can work for a league, you can work for a players’ association, you can work for a conference, you can work for an athletic department,” he said. “You can work in sports marketing, you can work in sports media. You can work in televised sports. Or if you’re slumming you could be an agent.”
But, he emphasized, you must understand that sports is one of the most competitive professional fields, so you have to be willing to put in the work to make yourself stand out.
First, he said, get an internship, but he also acknowledged that even the internships in the world of sports are extremely competitive. Build a social media presence, create your own personal brand. Get on LinkedIn and start connecting with people in the field whom you admire. And get creative.
One particularly industrious young man put together a very well-designed fake Sports Illustrated issue with a photo of himself on the cover and a headline announcing that Steinberg had hired him. Inside, the magazine was filled with articles about how this young guy had enhanced Steinberg’s firm’s marketing efforts, branding, negotiating, and community and charitable affairs.
“That showed me research, creativity, use of visuals, presentation skills, the ability to stand out from the crowd,” Steinberg said, “and we hired him.”
3. “If I could teach you one things it’s listening skills.”
Steinberg emphasized that his success as a agent didn’t come because of top-notch negotiating skills or complicated strategies of persuasion. He has simply tried to understand his potential clients, his negotiating partners, his adversaries.
“If you can understand another person and put your heart into their heart and your head into their head and view the world the way they do it, you can navigate your way gracefully through life.”
4. “You can use sports to change the world.”
Steinberg has used his platform and his position in the world of sports to get involved in a wide variety of causes and charities.
In his talk at UT, Steinberg highlighted his work on anti-bullying, citing the statistic that 40 percent of middle school and high school students face bullying.
“We can change that by having the athletes who sit on top of the food chain in any high school be the purveyors of tolerance instead of bullying,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg also works on bringing sustainable technology to sports facilities and stadiums, using these locations as platforms to teach people about renewable energy.
“The millions of fans that come can see a waterless urinal or a solar panel and think about how that could be implemented in their own home and business,” Steinberg said.
5. “The key in life is to have a moral compass, which you follow and not to compromise that for anybody.”
This philosophy applies to everyone in every profession, but for Steinberg, it has meant only involving himself with people and organizations he believes in.
If an athlete doesn’t fit into his sets of morals and principles, Steinberg will not sign him or her. Even if that athlete has the potential to be the highest paid football player or basketball player of all time, he won’t do it.
“You only have your life and you cut it up into little pieces to share with certain people,” Steinberg said.