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Philanthropy Is The Game Plan For This Super Sports Agent


By Leigh Steinberg

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239 pp., $24.95

"I know it's corny, but the whole reason I have this money," confesses wealthy sports agent extraordinaire Leigh Steinberg from his office in Southern California, "is that a whole lot of people fought and died to create a political democracy and a free enterprise system. I wasn't one of them. I inherited the system. To argue that somehow I made it on my own and have no obligations to anybody because it was just my hard work seems a little callous."

This money to which Steinberg refers is the tens of millions of dollars - very likely well past $100 million - he has made representing athletes since 1975.

And to his credit, Steinberg, the quasi-inspiration for the film "Jerry Maguire," does try to maintain some semblance of balance and real life even though he and his athletes are standing neck-deep in cash.

Therein lie the philosophical underpinnings of his star-studded representation of many of the biggest names in pro football, including quarterbacks Steve Young of the 49ers, Troy Aikman of the Cowboys, Ryan Leaf of the Chargers, Drew Bledsoe of the Patriots, plus others sprinkled across sportsdom, such as basketball star John Starks and boxer Oscar De La Hoya.

What Steinberg does is insist his athletes plug some of their dollars into charities in meaningful ways. Young and Bledsoe each have funneled more than $2 million into good works. Warren Moon is in his 21st year of giving scholarships to his old high school in West L.A. Starks builds basketball courts for the Tulsa kids.

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To Steinberg's credit, he has given more than $2 million of his own money to education and charity. Explains the SoCal surfer grown up Cal-Berkeley law graduate, "I don't think at the end of a lifetime the fact that someone negotiated X million [dollars] worth of contracts is particularly noteworthy for the human race. But I think the community and charitable programs that we do are."

He estimates his players have contributed more than $50 million to lofty things.

It is this idea of trafficking in a business of greed but doing for others along the way that Steinberg returns to often in his book, "Winning With Integrity," written with Michael D'Orso.

The conceptually sound book, sadly, is torpedoed by a lackluster writing effort by D'Orso, besotted with nonsense ("Effective negotiation is not about conflict") and rampant simplistic uselessness ("Negotiation is a process of give and take").

Inconsistencies abound. Steinberg is properly proud he made a $28.2 million deal for Buffalo's Bruce Smith sealed only by a handshake. Eight pages later, he advises, "Get it in writing. Always get it in writing." It smacks of a hurry-up book.

Steinberg deserved far better because he has so much more to give. There is almost no juicy insider stuff save for a few minor tidbits. The reason, clearly, is that Steinberg needs to keep negotiating with many of those about whom he writes, so the truth, at this juncture, would never serve.

A close reading creates the impression that Steinberg has never failed in a negotiation or lost a client. Neither is true, of course, but shortcomings aren't divulged. It's all halos and lollipops.

The book you want is the one Steinberg writes after he leaves the business. That's when fantasy will be subbed with reality.

Still, while the book fails the performance test, Steinberg doesn't when he discusses his business. He is passionate and eloquent when he talks about his requirement that his players "focus on retracing their roots." That would be with dollars. He swears by the importance of his clients being role models and "triggering imitative behavior, especially among adolescents."

To those who suggest parents, not athletes, should be role models, Steinberg says, "To tell a child who's from a single-parent family in a tough part of town that their role model should be their father who is not there is a little harsh."

Steinberg doesn't lack for ego ("I have the ability to stay up all night and still negotiate with absolute accuracy in the morning," he writes. "I actually become sharper rather than duller as time goes by"). Still, a book that would be moribund without one word - "I" - doesn't portray him properly. He's a far better, more insightful person, befitting his upbringing.

"We were told over and over again at our dinner table that our job was to make a difference in the world and that was how we ultimately were going to be judged," he wistfully reflects.

"I'm someone who is still trying to make a difference, trying to make things better. I guess maybe I'm one of the last idealists. I'm still not totally cynical and jaundiced about human behavior. I feel a personal responsibility to try to make things better."

And that is the real Leigh Steinberg.

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