Almost two years ago, I wrote an article describing my struggles with alcoholism and the consequences it lead to. It's time to bring you up to date. I am now deep into a fourth year of sobriety with the help of a unique fellowship and an extraordinary support system. Anyone who is feeling alone and despairing trying to get sober should know there is help available. For me, it has been a long and enlightening road back. The hiatus was a valuable and necessary learning experience. I was able to find clarity and a powerful sense of purpose for my life.
I'm happy to announce that my new company, Steinberg Sports and Entertainment, has officially launched. The question you may be asking is why, with renewed energy and motivation, would I choose to reenter the often cutthroat world of sports? The answer is simple. Sports, as much as any other aspect of our global culture, has the power to change the world.
My father stressed two core values:
1) Treasure relationships, especially family.
2) Make a positive impact in the world and help those who are in need and can't help themselves.
The world of sports is central to our humanity and offers unlimited opportunities to make a difference. Helping young people gain their own sense of purpose and motivation will enable them to prioritize values and develop a blueprint for a productive life. Values like self-respect, spiritual belief, a veneration of family and active participation in their community will serve them well for a lifetime and bring rewards beyond money.
First and foremost, professional athletes need to be successfully guided in their path to the draft in their respective sports. Physical and mental preparation can significantly affect not only their draft position but their ability to deliver the goods in competition. Once drafted, they need expert contract negotiation while they do everything possible to prepare to compete, starting with being on time for training camp. They are the people the fans pay to see, and football, in particular, is a dangerous game.
These athletes deserve to get financial security from their efforts. Being on time for camp -- instead of holding out over contract negotiations -- gives them the best chance of making an early impact. The best agents understand this, and are able to mentor athletes to prepare them for the physical and emotional demands of the game.
From day one, professional athletes have the power of their personal brand to give back to their communities and inspire others to do the same. We have always encouraged athletes to retrace their roots, returning to the high school, collegiate and professional communities that have shaped them, to establish charitable programs that connect them, to create relationships and build a lasting legacy for themselves and their families.
More than 120 of our athletes have established high school scholarship funds. Former running back Edgerrin James endowed a college scholarship at University of Miami, as did former first baseman Eric Karros at UCLA. Running back Warrick Dunn (pictured below) created "Homes for the Holidays" in Tampa Bay and Atlanta, enlisting political, business and community leaders to help move single mothers into their first homes. Kicker Rolf Benirschke formed "Kicks for Critters," a powerful animal welfare coalition in San Diego. Quarterback Warren Moon has sent hundreds of students to college, granting partial scholarships with his "Crescent Moon Foundation."
Serving as active members of a community helps set the framework for a successful life after sports, and agents need to play a vital role in this process.
Athletes can also serve as role models, inspiring positive imitative behavior. Many people, especially adolescents, erect a perceptual screen that allows them to ignore authority figures and commercial messages, but an athlete can permeate that screen and impart basic core values. When heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis cut a public service announcement that said, "Real Men Don't Hit Women," it did more to influence young attitudes toward domestic violence than the urgings of traditional authority figures.
Steve Young and boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya did the same with their "Prejudice is Foul Play" campaign. Anti-bullying, the importance of education, and staying away from drugs are examples of the types of messages that athletes can successfully communicate.
All too often, agentry has included hostility and conflict toward management. Public battles over salaries put young athletes in a negative light and alienate fans. Sports leagues, whether the NFL, NBA or MLB, are in competition not only with each other but with all major media and entertainment properties for a share of the consumer’s attention and wallet. Self-destructive strikes and lockouts, pitting millionaires against billionaires, only hurt the brand. Agents and owners should be united in building the popularity of a sport so that it can generate ample income for everyone, maximizing television contracts, stadium revenues and all related commerce.
Agents can also fall short by focusing only on the current net income of an athlete, treating them as fee generators over the course of a short playing career. By helping athletes explore their non-athletic skills, agents can lay the foundation for a fulfilling second career for their clients -- careers in business ownership, media, coaching and education. No longer should a post-playing career as a greeter in Las Vegas be the norm.
Media work offers tremendous opportunity, as exemplified by Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman commentating for Fox Sports, star wideout Desmond Howard on ESPN’s College Football GameDay, former point guard Greg Anthony calling college basketball on CBS, and many others working in front of the camera and behind the microphone.
Some have invested in sports franchises, as with former defensive tackle Ray Childress, a minority owner of the Houston Texans, and former safety Deron Cherry, limited partner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the first African-American minority owner in NFL history. All-Pro defensive end Bruce Smith is an executive with a construction company in Virginia and part owner of a hotel in Washington, D.C. Former quarterback Steve Young and tight end Brent Jones have built a successful business in the Internet and venture capital world. These are real businesses with longevity.
I realized early on that it was futile to focus on building bank accounts if my clients would end up mentally or physically impaired and unable to enjoy the fruits of their labors. I have campaigned tirelessly for awareness, prevention and post-injury solutions for the undiagnosed health epidemic that is resulting from concussions. Agents need to fight to make the game as safe as possible for athletes.
Since most athletes are in denial on these health issues, parents, wives, agents, coaches, trainers and owners need to serve as activists to protect their long-term health, and the health of the generations to come. New technologies in protective equipment are in development. Medical technology is also supplying new products that enhance performance without drugs, promoting health, safety and longevity.
I'm also excited about new technologies and emerging platforms that will enhance the spectator and media experience. I envision a fan in a stadium with a screen in front of him that displays every athletic contest being played, fantasy stats, bets, and social media that connect fans in that stadium or others. Fans may eventually be able to vote on a coach’s play call or overturn an official's ruling. I am excited about new marketing and sponsorship opportunities for athletes, coaches and corporations. Technology is enabling our agency to evolve into a virtual studio, developing content ranging from sports-themed motion pictures, TV and video games to original apps for multiple integrated platforms.
Environmental sustainability is another area where sports can have a profound impact. Our Sporting Green Alliance plans to take sustainable technologies in wind, water, solar, recycling and resurfacing to high school, collegiate, and professional stadia, arenas and practice fields. The goal is to drop carbon emissions and energy costs and transform these venues into educational platforms so hundreds of millions of fans can see an array of innovative technologies at work and think how they can incorporate these concepts into their own lives and businesses.
Is the responsible and holistic representation of athletes, along with all the innovation and integration accruing in sports and media, a worthy use of my time and energy? My answer is an enthusiastic yes. More than ever before, today's professional athlete not only has more personal opportunity, but more opportunity to have a lasting positive impact. Sports, and its role in our society, will continue to grow and be a central part of our everyday lives. I have always believed that sports has the power to change the world for the better, and I can't wait to get started.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.
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