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The Inside Track HEADIn Steinberg's Role, They Had
Him at 'Lawsuit' | T.J. SIMERS

July 25, 2001|T.J. SIMERS

First we have Tom Cruise, the guy who played Jerry Maguire in the movie, losing Nicole Kidman as his roommate, and now we have Leigh Steinberg, who is supposed to be the real-life Maguire, losing his long-standing reputation and good name as a super sports agent after being blindsided by his longtime business associate.

You have to feel badly for Cruise.

I THOUGHT about calling to see what I could do to help until I noticed the cover of a supermarket magazine, and it appears Cruise is recovering nicely with someone named Penelope.

That left me with Steinberg, which wasn't my idea of a very sexy subject until I began to read a stack of Los Angeles County Superior Court documents, which suggested a "bizarre-behaving" and "lying" Steinberg had been only a press-hungry front for a disorganized football enterprise that was falling apart because of his out-of-control ego.

I can't imagine Tom and Nicole's divorce being any messier.

The accusations, a whole pile of them, were in response to Steinberg's firm filing a lawsuit against former partner David Dunn and Dunn's new firm, Athletes First, claiming Dunn's contract prohibited him from starting a business to compete with Steinberg.

Dunn, and five other employees, left Steinberg's offices in Newport Beach in February. Since then, 23 of 80-some NFL players tied to Steinberg have terminated their relationship with the agent to seek representation elsewhere--many of them, like New England's Drew Bledsoe, going with Dunn.

I'm not sure who gets Cuba Gooding Jr.

The mudslinging, which will continue with depositions being taken next week, is expected to eventually wind up before Judge Marilyn L. Hoffman in a Los Angeles courtroom next year.

In the meantime, Steinberg's reputation is being trashed.

We're talking sports agent icon here being blasted with former employees declaring under the penalty of perjury that an incoherent Steinberg informed a business partner at 1:30 a.m. on one occasion that he intended to run for president.

Another former associate said he "licked the ear" of one of the company's female employees in front of several clients, and despite the employee's complaints, "this type of behavior did not stop."

Already acts like a certain president.

Another employee reported seeing Steinberg intoxicated with clients present and said there were several other times when he left voicemail sounding "like he was drunk."

Brian Murphy, working for Steinberg's firm for less than a year, said in documents: "Steinberg was not involved in client maintenance, I never saw him involved in contract negotiations, and he had a limited and dysfunctional role in recruiting . . . through my extensive negotiating experience [with Steinberg's firm], I learned the recruitment of athletes was based on deception.

" . . . Unfortunately, the requirement that all of our recruits meet with Steinberg proved to be a great detriment to the recruiting process. Specifically, as soon as Steinberg started meeting with our recruits, we started losing the players."

*

DUNN, MORE than willing to fire on Steinberg in court papers, went into hiding when called to talk about the damage inflicted on Steinberg.

Steinberg, however, said, "ask me anything," and admitted, "there's an element of truth here--we got too big, and it spread me thin."

He also said some of the claims made by former employees are true, although many of the accusations "have been twisted."

The court papers, referring to his "bizarre and/or detrimental behavior," might imply he had a drinking or substance abuse problem.

"Guilty," said Steinberg, admitting to drinking too much on occasion, "but it's not a problem. I haven't missed a day of work in 26 years.

"I do not take drugs. I just happen to let my weight go sometimes--other times I am very disciplined. I get fat and then I get skinny, but it's more a function of discipline--God no, I have no drug problem."

For almost a quarter of a century Steinberg has been at the top of his profession, the agent most likely to represent the best-known quarterbacks and highest-paid players in the game. Two years ago he sold his firm to the Assante Corp., and remained as CEO, giving Dunn a $2-million bonus.

"I think this is a case of a group of young people who decided they could make more and succeed quicker outside the Assante structure," he said.

In other words, "show me the money."

I'm sure Nicole will be telling Tom the same thing in court.

*

I SEE Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi are going to have a boy, and I haven't even had the chance to get them a wedding present.

*

I KNOW no one watches men's tennis anymore, but is it necessary to make sure no one watches men's tennis anymore?

I was all set to give it a try and attend the Marat Safin-Andy Roddick first-round match in the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center. Then I learned the Tuesday match was slated to start after my bedtime--at 9:30 p.m. Not only did I pass on that, but by the time it ends it probably will be too late for the final score to make the newspaper, so tennis will get the same attention from me it usually gets.

*

GOING INTO Tuesday's game, if McKay Christensen doesn't get a hit in his next 19 at-bats, he will still be hitting over .300. If Tom Goodwin comes off the disabled list and goes 19 for 19, he will still be below .300.

*

TODAY'S LAST word comes in an e-mail from Andrea:

"Your mocking reference to Sparks players being 'ugly' [is] unforgivable. Have you looked in the mirror recently?"

I believe that makes me an authority on the subject.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com

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