Last month, the Irvine Co. accused Leigh Steinberg of being a deadbeat. Wednesday, the super-sports agent made it official.
The 62-year-old, who was touted as an inspiration for the titular character in the Tom Cruise flick Jerry Maguire, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and fired off an email to friends where he admits something that's circulated in Newport Beach social circles for years: he's an alcoholic.
"I have struggled with alcohol for a number of years," Steinberg writes. "In the past five or six years I began to check out episodically for short periods. My judgment and oversight of my affairs was not consistent and at times impaired. I am responsible for my own addiction--no one forced me to drink--and in revealing my struggle with alcoholism, I am in no way justifying or excusing my circumstance. But I discuss it to provide context as well as understanding and inspiration to those who also battle addictive behavior."
Throughout the email, Steinberg denies the characterization of him fostered by the Irvine Co. and media that he has been in hiding to avoid repaying his massive debt, which includes a $1.4 million judgment on back rent for office space. He notes he advances his public appearances through various social media platforms, and the only time he was missing was during his initial stay in the Sober Living program. Since becoming sober, he maintains, he has set about putting his business affairs back in order with the goal of rebuilding his sports and entertainment management agency so he can meet his obligations.
The lawyer's past clients have included Troy Aikman, Howie Long, Ben Roethlisberger, Oscar de la Hoya and Chad Morton, who wound up taking Steinberg to court over an unpaid loans. In court documents that led to a bench warrant being issued for Steinberg last month, the Irvine Co. listed $900,000 the agent had owed to his former client Morton, a running back and return specialist for USC and the New York Giants. But the amount was actually $336,000, and Steinberg repeats in his email something he said at the time of the 2003 judgment against him: he's repeatedly offered to repay Morton more than the original loans, which Steinberg claims were made without his knowledge to an "employee," David Kim.
"It was exactly the kind of transaction that I had specifically forbidden, and it violated NFL Players Association regulations," Steinberg writes in Wednesday's email. "The NFL player understandably fired me, then went to a rival agency. As a matter of background, you should know that this company is run by an agent who used to work at our firm. We filed a lawsuit to challenge the way this agent had left our firm, and we won. Two attorneys on the losing side are involved in the current case concerning my debt."
Through the bankruptcy proceedings, Steinberg can hopefully achieve something that has eluded him for the past several years: control over his life.
"I have attempted to make amends for the damage that my drinking caused to others," he concludes. "I believe I have many productive years ahead and hope through this process that once again I will be able to make a positive impact on the lives of athletes and the world."
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- Leigh Steinberg, Who Inspired Jerry Maguire, Accused of Being a Deadbeat.
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Steinberg's complete email follows . . .
The public interest in my financial affairs and the inaccurate descriptions of my situation have led me to write this column: I filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy.
I delayed taking this step for a number of years because of my moral and legal obligation to people who advanced me funds or performed services in good faith. But the constant and aggressive collection efforts and press initiatives undertaken by creditors have harassed my family and prevented me from working to be able to pay these debts. Prospective clients have been pushed away after receiving notice of my debts. It doesn't seem logical to prevent a person who owes you money from working in their chosen field by attempting to ruin his reputation, but that is what has happened. I have lived with this in recent years, and it is time to follow a more constructive path.
I have struggled with alcohol for a number of years. In the past five or six years I began to check out episodically for short periods. My judgment and oversight of my affairs was not consistent and at times impaired. I am responsible for my own addiction--no one forced me to drink--and in revealing my struggle with alcoholism, I am in no way justifying or excusing my circumstance. But I discuss it to provide context as well as understanding and inspiration to those who also battle addictive behavior. I surrendered to the reality that I was an alcoholic and my behavior was impacting family and associates in March 2010. I surrendered to the concept that until I tackled alcoholism, other priorities needed to be put aside.
I lived in Sober Living for a time and began to actively work a 12-step program. I was aided in this effort with the help of a loving family, supportive friends, a closer relationship with a Higher Power, and a remarkable fellowship. Debt and default judgments occurred during this period. I am responsible for these debts. But my priority was sobriety, and I have been continuously sober since that time.
I have tried during the past 40 years to make a positive impact on this nation and the athletic community and to make a contribution to young men's lives. This has involved emphasizing core values such as self respect, nurturing family, spiritual connections, and active involvement in community. I've helped form high school and college scholarship funds and foundations to tackle basic issues. Our athletes have raised more than $660 million for charity. I created a national training program for volunteers fighting racism and hate, along with funding numerous other programs for good.
My Dad instilled in me two core values: 1) Treasure relationships--especially family. 2) Help make a difference in the world by aiding the less fortunate. Sponsor-supported Super Bowl parties for the past 25 years have raised money to send a water machine to Haiti during the earthquake and fund causes such as autism research and the environment among others. Our company has done live television interactivity with troops in Iraq and wounded soldiers in military hospitals. But the grip of alcohol made me less effective in upholding those values.
I plan to change that by helping athletes, fighting climate change through the Sporting Green Alliance, raising awareness about the undiagnosed health epidemic of concussions, bringing pro football to Southern California, and combating steroid and supplement abuse in high schools, combating teen bullying, and other community and charitable efforts.
When a bench warrant for me relating to my debt was authorized last month, the portrait painted in the media was that a "missed hearing" was the equivalent of my hiding or running from the law. That couldn't be further from the truth. I have been rebuilding a business that will be active in representation, consultation and content supply. We have a website, blog, Facebook and interactive efforts. I mention public appearances and speeches on these sites. I was never unavailable except for the period in early sobriety, which was a necessary aspect of the program. I was a loyal tenant of the Irvine Company for more than 20 years before expensive rent and these other difficulties forced us to close that office two years ago. A hearing on the matter was scheduled and my attorney agreed to change the date and called the night before to tell me not to show up. He failed to reschedule, didn't appear at the hearing that went on without my knowledge, and didn't inform me. I am responsible for all my actions, but I assumed I could rely on counsel.
The underlying cause of my inability to earn money and resolve my debt situation occurred in 2003. One of my employees admitted that--without my knowledge--he had taken a $300,000 loan from one of our NFL clients. It was exactly the kind of transaction that I had specifically forbidden, and it violated NFL Players Association regulations. The NFL player understandably fired me, then went to a rival agency. As a matter of background, you should know that this company is run by an agent who used to work at our firm. We filed a lawsuit to challenge the way this agent had left our firm, and we won. Two attorneys on the losing side are involved in the current case concerning my debt.
Since then, I have made repeated offers to re-pay the player far more than the original $300,000. There are many legal complexities, but in a nutshell, his representatives--the ones who lost the lawsuit--have insisted to me on collecting monies without informing the NFLPA that the matter is settled. This point is crucial because I did not apply for recertification by the union after one of their agents (and his wife) filed suit against me in 2006. If I cannot be recertified, I cannot work in the field that I have been trained in, which is to the benefit of this rival agent. Keeping me out of business seems to be a priority above collecting the debt, and although substantial payments have been made, the demand is now four times the original amount. My attempts to rebuild my life have been hamstrung.
I have attempted to make amends for the damage that my drinking caused to others. I believe I have many productive years ahead and hope through this process that once again I will be able to make a positive impact on the lives of athletes and the world.