The new episode of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel debuts Tuesday night on HBO (10:00 p.m. ET/PT). The show includes a closer look at the stunning disintegration of agent Leigh Steinberg’s career, by Armen Keteyian.
Though much focus has been placed on Steinberg’s more recent alcohol-fueled escapades, the problem had been festering for years. Former client Drew Bledsoe tells Keteyian that Steinberg was drunk at Bledsoe’s wedding, way back in 1996.
“I had a handful of friends coming to me at our reception say, ‘Who’s that guy?’ I was, like, ‘Oh, that’s my super-agent. That’s the biggest agent in the sports world.’ And they’re, like, ‘Wow, he’s the drunkest guy at the party,’” Bledsoe said.
A few years later, Bledsoe had enough. “I went to [former Steinberg partner] David Dunn,” Bledsoe said. “I said, ‘Hey you can either leave and start your own firm and I’ll go with you or I’m just going to walk and go someplace else because, you know, this guy can’t be my agent anymore.’ At some point, this thing’s going to end badly for Leigh, as what it came to. And when it went down, when it ended badly, I didn’t want to be on that ship with him.”
The lawsuit filed by Steinberg against Dunn, and the ensuing trial, continued the slow sink. “You were depicted as boorish, unstable, abusive, out of touch with your clients, a drunk and, and a womanizer,” Keteyian says, regarding the testimony that came out. “I mean, am I missing anything there that they said about you?”
“I also killed Christ,” Steinberg says. He later explains that the jury “didn’t believe half” of the allegations, which some could interpret as implying that they still believed a pretty large chunk of it.
Steinberg eventually won a big judgment against Dunn, but it was reversed on appeal. In 2004, Steinberg landed Ben Roethlisberger, and in early 2006 clients Troy Aikman and Warren Moon made it to the Hall of Fame. (Steinberg introduced Moon at the enshrinement ceremony.) Still, Steinberg was fired in April 2006 by incoming draft picks Matt Leinart and Winston Justice, and the end of Steinberg’s marriage that same year fueled the decline.
The low point came in 2007. “I had started drinking in the day, so I went for a walk,” Steinberg says. “The problem is, is that my alcohol level got too high and I was sort of hanging out on a hill, sitting in a vacant lot, you know, just singing away and making noise. And, I ended up in Hoag Hospital in a diaper, not knowing where I was. That’s pretty close to, to bottom as I could ever get.”
Now sober for two years, Steinberg is trying to put his life back together, even after recently filing for bankruptcy. “If my story is a cautionary note to anyone out there who’s struggling with any kind of substance abuse, there is help,” Steinberg said. “It is possible, but you need to put everything else in your life aside and focus on it. So, in an unwanted way, I hopefully still can do some good to ease the pain of other people.”
Here’s hoping that Steinberg’s pain has ended, and that he’ll be able to fashion a second act to his career that inspires others who also are trying to turn their lives around.