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Championing the Game Changer: Bernardo Moya in Conversation with Leigh Steinberg

Here at The Best You Magazine, we dive deep into the lives and insights of extraordinary individuals shaping our world. Bernardo Moya, editor-in-chief of The Best You, had the honor of sitting down with Leigh Steinberg, renowned sports agent and a titan in the sports industry. With a career spanning decades, Leigh has not only negotiated record-breaking contracts, but has also pioneered athlete advocacy and philanthropy. Join Leigh as he uncovers the secrets to his success, the lessons learned from his journey, and the principles driving his vision for a better tomorrow.

Bernardo: Leigh, thank you so much for being here. First of all, obviously, you’ve had a phenomenal career. And I want to get straight into kind of your expertise as a great agent. So, why have you stood out? What would you feel are your best attributes as an agent over the years?

Leigh: I think the most important skill in many ways in life is the art of listening, and tuning in on this moment and trying to find out from another human being, what their greatest anxieties and fears are, and what their greatest hopes and dreams are. And if you can cut below the surface, especially with another man, and peel back the layers of the onion, and see how someone feels about values like short term economic gain, long term economic security, family, spiritual, geographical profile, making a difference in the world and understand what someone’s real inner aspirations are, then it’s much easier to craft a way to fulfill them in life. I believe that the fact that our practices emphasize the role that an athlete can play as a role model, triggering imitative behavior, asking each one of the clients to retrace their routes to the high school community, set up a scholarship fund at the high school or a work with a church or boys and girls Club, and at the collegiate level, put down roots and network with the alums and maybe set up a program and then at the pro level, put together a charitable foundation that has some leading business figures, political figures and community leaders on the board. So that work done just put the 200th single mother in their family into the first home they’ll ever own by making a down payment and outfitting the house. So, it’s philosophically profiling potential clients that are self-starters, want to make an impact in the world, and also an emphasis on developing second career skills from the beginning.

B: Well, obviously, you’re a great listener. As you said, massive empathy, but also you’re a great negotiator, aren’t you? I mean, you’ve managed to do amazing deals worth billions of dollars over the years. So, what does it take to be a great negotiator?

L: Again, that listening skills, you need to get in the mind of the general manager or the other party, and figure out what their priority list is, and see if you can craft a win-win scenario where both parties walk away happy. And we do repetitive business in sports, in the NFL, or major league baseball or the NBA, so that you’re dealing with pretty much the same people over and over repetitively. And so the relationship being honest, and your word being your bond is critical in our field. It’s a very oral field we’re big deals are made over phone call or handshake without 200 different letters of intent or the passage of money taking place, you could actually announce a deal. It’s just been orally agreed to, so it’s key to to foster relationships and among the people you negotiate with that will stand the rigors of the process.

B: And is that, to a degree, what your book Winning with Integrity is all about?

L: Yes, Winning with Integrity was the 12 essential rules of negotiating. And we all negotiate in our lives, fathers and mothers with their kids on what time curfew is, husband and wives on who will do domestic chores and where they go out to dinner. We buy cars, we buy houses, so having an understanding of being able to do an internal inventory and figure out what’s most critical to you, and rank and prioritize those different values and deal points is really important to understand what’s critical and irreplaceable in the deal and what’s not.

B: You’ve been very diverse with, obviously, you’ve worked with a lot of NFL athletes, but you’ve also worked with Olympians boxers. I have so much to ask you. But I mean, and I get it’s a massive generalization here, but what are the common denominators of these winners that you’ve worked with over the years? And why the diversity? Because I’m very curious, someone like Dennis Lewis wanting to work with you as well. What I’m saying is, you come from a different background.

L: For me, it’s all athletes on the cutting edge and the ability to impact society. So, we can take an issue like the environment and put together a sporting green alliance that will take sustainable technology into stadiums, arenas and practice fields, to drop carbon emissions and energy costs and transform them into educational platforms. This means that fans can see a waterless urinal or solar panel, and think about how to use those in their own lives. He put sports in the forefront of climate change. The commonality between gifted athletes and high performing athletes is the ability, in adversity, to be able to be resilient. So, the quarterbacks throwing a couple passes that are interceptions, the crowds starting to boo, the game’s getting out of hand. What does that player do now? Can he compartmentalize, adopt a quiet mind, and tune out all extraneous stimuli and elevate his level of play in critical situations? Because we find that more and more athletic contests are coming down to the fourth quarter. And in some cases, like the Superbowl, the last drive or the last play. So the point is, we know what athletes do when things are going well, but what they do when inevitably they’re not? And are they able to channel the inner strength, fortitude, endurance, to sparkle in critical moments?

B: And is that what it takes? Is that what it takes to be a winner? I mean, you work with so many great athletes. And I’m sure it’s very difficult to kind of point one, to identify one…

L: I think it would be. I think another is work ethic, because what you see in athletic performance is only the tip of the iceberg. And then underneath that he is studying a playbook over and over and over again, looking at film, so you can anticipate what the opponent will do. It’s physically being in shape all year round. And all of those qualities are things that you can’t see, but they’re reflected in the performance.

B: So within the sports industry and the future, what do you believe many people are overlooking or underestimating? And why do you think it’s important for stakeholders to take attention to it?

L: I think we just hit a period of extraordinary change. So you have NILs on college campuses, with the athletes not having to be amateurs anymore, but they can market themselves and brand themselves. Conference realignment, the introduction of gambling into sports, which previously was an impregnable wall to limit any access. But I was at my Super Bowl party in Las Vegas, and I sat there for a second and said, “wait a minute, there was never going to be professional sports in Las Vegas.” The leagues were adamantly against it, and yet, here we are. And you can go into the Washington Commanders Stadium and go up to the snack bar, and then move to the adjacent booth where you can place a bet. So this is a big change, we see the development of new athletic sports like eSports, where a younger generation is in love with video games, and they want to watch another person play the game. And so I think you have a younger generation that grows up on multitasking and, and sharp bursts of content coming over the screen. And you’re going to have to deal with their limited attention span and their restlessness to sustain sports.

B: Interesting. Now, with this rapid change with technology and all the consumption habits, how do you see the role of sports agents, if changing in any way?

L: Well, it’s understanding how to brand the new currency of marketability is how many followers someone has on TikTok or Instagram, or even LinkedIn. So it’s the ability to understand how to brand an athlete to make them more marketable, using tools of social media. And it’s understanding how information is conveyed today, which is back in my era, you know, this was called the newspaper and we read it and held on to it. And today, the next generation doesn’t read a paper, how they receive information is very different, so you have to be tuned into that. And with a shorter attention span, don’t assume that an athlete or their parents are going to sit there for hours and listen to you. You better get it out quick.

B: They get out quick. One of the things that’s appealing and interesting to me, I’m a big football fan and you know, soccer here in Europe, and looking at what’s happening, for example, in the Arab League now, and with what’s opening up, what are your thoughts regarding the vast potential growth of all these countries that weren’t necessarily exposed to sports?

L: Of course, in the Middle East, you have the unending supply of oil. So, they can attract a World Cup, they could put together a world class team, they could do whatever they would do. But the world is crazy about soccer. Here in America, we’re crazy about the NFL, among other sports, but the NFL dominates, but in the world, it’s soccer. It’s a universal connectivity between sports fans and all those different countries making the World Cup the world’s premier sports event and competition. And here in our country, we’re developing a whole new generation of youthful soccer players at an early age and training them to see the future of the sport. Because Americans are so dominant in every sport, it makes no sense that we don’t have competitiveness in men’s soccer. But you’re saying that the league here just attracted Lionel Messi and you’re going to see a soccer grown girl.

B: So over the years, you’ve done so much great work, philanthropic work, Leigh, which is very honorable. And I know that you’ve always also been very involved in the health of athletes, especially after they finish their careers or overcoming injury. And I know, there’s been a lot of amazing documentaries around that. Can you tell us a little bit more of the work that you’re doing or what you’re involved in?

L: Well, first of all, on one key issue, which is concussion, and the specter of head injury. I had a crisis of conscience years ago, because I’m representing half the starting quarterbacks that keep getting hit in the head. And we go to the doctors and ask him questions 35 years ago, “how many is too many? What’s the magic number?” They couldn’t tell us. So, I started holding brain health seminars with leading neurologists, helmet manufacturers, field, turf manufacturers, and approached it from many different aspects. And we finally found out that three or more concussions, occasions and exponentially higher rates of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, premature senility, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and depression. So I’ve called it a ticking time bomb and an undiagnosed health epidemic. There now is a revolution in biomed, which will affect all our lives, but has real application for athletes. So I’ve looked at modalities like stem cells, hyperbaric oxygen, blue, red and white light, Nana V, a variety of different healing modalities, which can prevent injuries from ever occurring in the first place. They also, for the rest of us, Bernardo, can do amazing things in terms of keeping cognitive function and memory alive and making people live longer. So I’ve taken some of those concepts, athletes and teams to try to integrate them because, can you stimulate productivity and energy in critical moments? Can you rehab an athlete quicker than what’s been done before? And then the rest of us get the benefits of these new preventive medicine treatments that also can be rehabilitative. But the point is, it’s a new way to approach health.

B: And do you believe that with everything that’s happened over the years, and obviously the effect has had, as you said, in mental health, depression, Alzheimer’s, do you think this is going to change now moving forward because of this?

L: Yes. So, there’s the concept of neuroplasticity. And the old thinking was, once a brain gets injured or age or something happens, it will only progress and descend to get worse. But now, we have new treatments that through neuroplasticity, rewire the neurons in the brain, and in essence, refresh or youthen the brain. And one of them was called rTMS, which is magnets against the head. And there’s another one that Thomas Shavers called NESTRE. But there are a variety of working treatments that can actually restore concussed brain health.

B: And thank you, Leigh. I know you don’t want to brag, but I know you’ve been doing a lot of work with kids, and obviously, helping and supporting some charities. Can you share some of the great things that you’re involved in?

L: One of the things that concerned me was the rise of skinheads and hate groups. And so I put together a program called Steinberg Leadership, where they train young professionals in the 30 biggest cities across the country, how to intervene in a crisis situation, how to do intelligence work and help police departments, and how to go into schools and promote ethnic diversity. I’ve been very active. My daughter and I shared a luncheon on the issue of domestic violence. And the thrust of it was that domestic violence is not a female issue. It’s a human rights issue. And we, as men, have daughters and wives and mothers, and the thought something would happen to them is horrifying. So that we can take an active part in trying to change that climate. And you mentioned Lennox, Lewis Lennox. Lewis did a public service announcement that said, “Real men don’t hit women.” And that will do more to trigger behavioral change in rebellious adolescents than 1000 authority figures ever could. They don’t want to listen to parents or police or teachers. But a macho athlete can deliver a better message. Oscar de la Hoya and Steve Young did a public service announcement that said, “Prejudice is foul play.”

B: Well, that is great. And that is something that obviously, you’ve got access to so many inspirational people, and I know you’re obviously using all your knowledge or your input, and who you are in order to bring and attract some great people to these amazing causes. So Leigh, what I wanted to ask you now is, I’ve heard, a little bird just told me that you’re working on a new book. So, can you share a little bit about that?

L: So it’s tentatively titled Comeback: The Resilience and What Really Matters in Life. And so I wrote the book on negotiating, Winning with Integrity. And then I wrote an autobiography, which was The Agent, but The Agent ends in about 2013. And at that point, I was still struggling with alcohol, and had to sort of restart everything back in 2010. And so, Comeback will talk about how I dealt with addiction and how other people can do it. And then will trace the years back to representing athletes and, trying to make a difference in the world and hopefully talk about resilience and the ability to come back. Because all of us will experience reverses in life. And the question is not whether or not you’re going to get knocked down. We all will episodically. But the question is, now, what do you do? Can you be resilient? Can you see the light at the end of the tunnel? Can you find your path back out of detritus destruction, depression? Despondence? And so that is a subject in the next book.

B: Well, thank you, it’s gonna be a great read. And I know you’ve been very open about that. And, you know, it’s we all fall, it’s as you said, and you come back now. I always believe and I always share, resilience is a strong word that I believe in. I always share the three R’s, which is resilience, revolution, which is change, and then reinvention, so that’s kind of my strategy, and has been for a long time, and especially when you look back. Now, I also know and believe that especially I don’t know, parents, if we go through moments of massive adversity, especially with our children, something that could be tremendously scary or challenging. We find this inner strength within us that we’re capable of doing the most amazing things. And it’s either that or a turning point, or some dark moment. I mean, for you and in your comeback. But what was it? What got you back on track?

L: So basically, I was in a state where all I could think about was where to find more vodka. And I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity, where all the darkness went away. And I said, you know, I was brought up by a father with two core values. Aside from spiritual ones, one is treasure relationships, especially family. And the second was trying to make a meaningful difference in the world and help people who can’t help themselves, make things more positive. And I realized I was failing on both those accounts. And so what? And then I had a moment of proportionality and perspective. Who was I to sit and wallow in those circumstances, when I’m not a starving peasant in Darfur in the middle of a civil war? I’m not sitting under the bomb patterns in the Ukraine. My name is not Steinberg in Nazi Germany in the 30s. I don’t have cancer, I’m not sick in any way. What excuse do I really have not to try again, and to try to live up to those two admonitions from my dad? And so that got me started. And I used a 12-step program with a unique fellowship, and said to myself, you know, if nothing else, I’ll be sober, and I’ll be a good father. And anything else that happens, was just cherry on top. And in a couple of weeks, everything is going well, all celebrate my 14th year of continuous sobriety.

B: Congratulations, and congratulations on all your great work. So, just to finish a couple of more questions. It’s difficult to, and I know you’re doing so much great work and you’re involved in a lot of causes that are there to potentially help change the world and change reality. But for me, it’s difficult to see so much anger, intention, which seems to be all over the world and, and there’s never been a moment in life or in history with more wealth, with more knowledge, with more information, with more opportunities, with so many tools for everyone to learn any skill. So what would be the Steinberg solution?

L: I think people need to study psychology, and what motivates other people to act the way they do. And I think that the world needs a lesson and proportionality. It’s one thing that you’re sitting in a culture filled with poverty or political repression. But it’s another thing to live in a free country with a high standard of living, like Americans somehow have the perception that things are terrible and all wrong, and we’re in the midst of depression. And the rest of it, I blame the pandemic for some of the mental state around the world at this point, because what it did is it isolated people from each other. And we are social creatures, we need the interactivity of friends and family to be mentally and physically healthy. And so it’s got to be a return to optimism and a return to what my dad used to tell me, which is when you’re waiting for someone to make a change or fix a condition and you keep waiting for “they or them”. The famous they or them. Older people, political figures, he would say could be as minor as picking up pieces of trash up off the floors, major is fighting racism or climate change. But when you keep waiting for “they or them”, you could wait forever, and he would say that they is use on your them. So have a sense of individual responsibility and, and have a bit of proportionality so that we’re not letting things divide us.

B: Empathy, and so there is no “they” and a lot more empathy and understanding. But I do love the idea of people understanding or sending a little bit more psychology. So just to finish, Leigh, anything that you would want to share and I know, again, what would you like your legacy to be, what would you like to be known for? And what excites you right now?

L: Just the fact that I’ve tried to make a difference. And I think that’s a universal application. So we all have the capacity in our own way in our own time, to make it a better world. And we can do it through good parenting, we can do it through social activism. We can do it in a variety of ways, but let’s take a cheer. I think what’s critical is that this moment that we’re sharing together, at this particular point, the only moment that is in my consciousness, and so if you could just put yourself, put down your cell phone, put down all distractions and focus on this moment in front of you and maximizing the value of what comes out of this moment or this hour, as opposed to worrying about the past or the future or some other dimension, then we’ll all be much happier.

B: Stay focused definitely, especially with the phones and devices that we’re just losing attention instead of staying focused in the now. Well, Leigh, listen, thank you so much. You’re always so gracious. You’re such a gentleman. And I’m very grateful to know you, and I’m very grateful for this interview. Thank you so much.

L: My pleasure.

B: Thank you, Leigh. Take care, and thank you everyone for watching here today. All the best. Lots of love.

Bernardo Moya

Bernardo is the founder of The Best You, author of The Question, Find Your True Purpose, an entrepreneur, writer, publisher, TV producer and seminar promoter to some of the biggest names in Personal Development. He is editor-in-chief of The Best You magazine – a fascinating voice in the Personal Development world.

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