Inspiration for 'Jerry Maguire' Files for Bankruptcy

PHOTO: Leigh Steinberg attends the Leigh Steinbergs 25th Annual Super Bowl Party, in this Feb. 5, 2011 file photo in Dallas, Texas.PlayChristopher Blumenshine/Getty Images for Mercedes Benz
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Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, the inspiration for the "show me the money" character in the movie "Jerry Maguire," filed for bankruptcy protection for debt ranging from $1 million to $5 million.

Steinberg, who represented NFL stars like Troy Aikman, Steve Young and Ben Roethlisberger, cited his children's health problems, a "forbidden" business transaction from one of his employees, and a former struggle with alcoholism as catalysts for the financial problems.

His attorney, Alessandro Assanti, said Steinberg's two children had suffered "serious medical issues," including the eye disease retinitis pigmentosa, which can cause near blindness. That and other problems caused Steinberg to turn to alcohol, Assanti added, though he has been sober since 2010.

"So many terrible things were going on in his life personally, it was difficult to balance," Assanti said.

Steinberg's attorneys filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection late Wednesday in Santa Ana, Calif.

He has represented at least six of the NFL's No. 1 draft picks since 1989, according to The New York Times.

Stephen Cannella, a Sports Illustrated senior editor, said in many ways Steinberg created the role of the modern sports agent -- not just in football but in every sport. He had the ability to negotiate big-money contracts and he was the first agent to develop a superagent persona.

"If you were a top-tier player, especially a quarterback, then there was little debate over who you wanted your agent to be," Cannella wrote in an email. "Having him as representation almost became a status symbol for players coming out of college, a way of announcing yourself as a start before you had even signed a contract."

He helped negotiate Aikman's contract in 1993 for $50 million over eight years, the biggest contract in NFL history at the time according to USA Today, when he was a quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys. Aikman's signing bonus of $11 million was also the biggest in NFL history at that time. His $6.25 million package average passed Young's $5.35 million average when he was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.

In 1995, Steinberg helped negotiate another record contract -- this time, for Drew Bledsoe with the New England Patriots.

Since then, many NFL stars, including Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts, Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers and Albert Haynesworth of the Washington Redskins, have reportedly signed contracts in the range of $98 to $100 million for seven to 10 years.

Despite getting a cut of some of the largest deals in sports history, somehow the money was squandered away. Steinberg listed his only asset as $475,000 in stock in the bankruptcy filing.

"There's always the question in bankruptcy of whether the lifestyle got ahead of the earnings or the earnings fell behind the lifestyle," Stephen Greyser, business of sports professor with the Harvard Business School, said.

"I just lost track while I was in rehab," Steinberg told the Associated Press regarding his own finances.

There was a warrant issued for Steinberg, known as the first super agent, in December over a $1.4 million debt from a landlord. The warrant was issued after Steinberg did not show up to a hearing, though he said an attorney failed to change the date of it.

Steinberg said he delayed filing for bankruptcy for several 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," he said in a statement.

One main cause of his financial problems involved one of his employees who took a $300,000 loan from one of his NFL clients in 2003.

"It was exactly the kind of transaction that I had specifically forbidden, and it violated NFL Players Association regulations," Steinberg said in a statement. "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."

Assanti said his client's total debt ranges from $1 million to $5 million, and the exact amount will be determined in the first creditors' meeting, which has not been scheduled.

Assanti said Steinberg has not been actively working as an agent but is "trying to get past his personal problems."

"He is absolutely brilliant," Assanti said. "He knew he needed to refocus on his life so he could help people again. He realized he needed to take out time for himself to make sure he could go on."

Cannella said Steinberg became fabulously wealthy and as big a star as the athletes themselves.

"On the other hand, his constant legal squabbling, feuding with rival agents and fights with and over clients were abject lessons in how cutthroat the sports agent industry is," he wrote. "No wonder he was the model for Jerry Maguire."