Leigh Steinberg, real-life ‘Jerry Maguire,’ talks honor and character

John Melendez

Oscar De La Hoya, Troy Aikman, Evander Holyfield and Vince Young all have one thing in common — Leigh Steinberg.

On Monday, the Center for Sports Leadership and Innovation hosted a talk by distinguished sports agent, Leigh Steinberg, the man who inspired the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire.”

Steinberg has represented a total of 62 first-round picks from the NFL Draft, including the number one overall pick eight times. He has secured over $3 billion for over for 300 pro-athlete clients, according to his company’s website.

The idea for the film “Jerry Maguire” was inspired by Steinburg’s understanding of the importance of caring about the personal welfare of the players rather than just profiting off of them.

“I had a crisis of conscience,” Steinberg said. “Can I represent players if they might be on the road to dementia? No one (was) talking about it.”

John Winter, sport management graduate student, said Leigh’s unwillingness to compromise his moral compass is refreshing.

“To hear really successful people, that really helps, but the fact that he’s a guy at the top of his field and he’s done it by having ethical values — you don’t have to be side swiper or a backstabber — was very pleasing to hear,” Winter said.

Developing relationships with the athletes he represented was especially important in a game with such heavy contact as football, Steinberg said.

“I love football, but if 50 percent of the mothers in this country actually knew the facts about concussions, it will become a gladiator sport where the only people who continue to play are people from impoverished backgrounds who need it for economic opportunity,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg also said there are many ways for athletes to give back to their communities, and they have an obligation to help where they can.

“Rebellious adolescents do not listen to authority figures,” Steinberg said. “But a macho athlete who carries a different message can permeate the perceptual stream that young people put up against all those messages.”

Justin Graeber, an advertising graduate student, said he appreciated the way Steinberg shared the stories and experiences as a way to explain his opinions and actions rather than list all of his accolades.

“(The talk was) very character-oriented,” Graeber said. “(Steinberg’s) performance is not what is driving the discussion. Values based motivation is what, to me, is compelling.”