Berkeley Haas - Dean's Speaker Series | Leigh Steinberg, Chairman and Founder of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment

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  • Good evening, everyone.

I’m Ann Harrison.

I’m the dean at the Haas School of Business.

Welcome to today’s Dean’s Speaker Series

co-sponsored by the Haas Healthcare Association,

John E. Martin Mental Healthcare Challenge.

I’m honored to introduce and welcome back to campus

a double bear in political science and law, Leigh Steinberg.

(audience applauds)

As chairman and founder

of Steinberg Sports and Entertainment,

Leigh is best known for his work building athletes

into stand-alone brands,

and he has represented many of the most successful athletes

and coaches in sport.

With an unrivaled history of record-setting contracts,

Leigh has secured over $4 billion

for his more than 300 pro athlete clients.

Not only is he a leader in his field,

he’s also a leader here at Berkeley.

Leigh served as co-chair

of his 50th reunion campaign last year

and he was a recent participant in Berkeley Changemakers.

He also told me before we got on the stage here,

that he was the president of the ASUC of the student body

when he was an undergraduate here.

Equally as noteworthy, Leigh has distinguished himself

as an exemplary leader of beyond himself.

He has directed more than $800 million

to various charities around the world.

Leigh has received many commendations

for his philanthropic work,

including being named man of the year over a dozen times

by a variety of organizations.

In addition to all this,

Leigh is also a best-selling author,

his most recent book,

“The Agent: My 40-Year Career Making Deals

and Changing the Game”

details his decades of dominance in the sports industry

as well, sheds light on his personal struggles

to launch his comeback.

At this point, you guys should all know

that he was also the model

for Jerry McGuire in “Jerry Maguire,”

just in case you didn’t know that.

Thank you, Leigh, for being here today,

we really are so grateful for both your time

and your willingness

to share your professional and personal journey

with all of us.

I know there is so much that we will learn

from tonight’s discussion.

And with that,

I turn it over to Songwen Chen, MBA, MPH 2022,

and co-president of the Haas Healthcare Association

to get us started.

Thank you.

(audience claps)

  • Thank you, and just confirming y’all can hear?

  • [Audience] Yes.

  • Awesome.

Leigh, let’s get started.

I’m excited to be here.

You once said,

“I think all of us in our lives can envision a world

that we would like to have

and then realize it’s better to light candles

than to curse the darkness.”

For those unfamiliar with your story,

can you share more about what you meant by that

and a little bit more about your journey,

not only as a sports agent,

but personally as you dealt with the alcoholism

in your path to sobriety?

  • So the question was?

(audience laughs)

  • Long question, just you know.

  • Just to talk about that?

  • Yes, please.

Yeah, just your journey,

how we got to you as a sports agent,

just some of the personal challenges

in this path that you’re on now.

  • Got it, so I’m thrilled to be here at Haas,

which I consider to be the best business school

in my country.

(audience applauds)

With the distinguished faculty

and amazing students

and I welcome the students

from equally Augusta institutions

and from Harvard and Wharton and…

So I grew up in Los Angeles,

came up to Cal Berkeley in the late ’60s,

and this was the center of rock music and herbal substances

and liberated men and women

and it was the most exciting place in the country to be.

I was a dorm counselor in an undergraduate dormitory

and they moved the freshmen football team into the dorm,

and one of the students was Steve Bartkowski,

and in 1975, he became the very first player picked

in the first round of the National Football League draft.

And he asked me to represent him,

well, there really wasn’t any sports agent treason,

teams could just hang up the phone and say,

we don’t deal with agents, click.

And so we got lucky,

Bartkowski was the first picked in the first round.

He got the largest rookie contract in NFL history.

And when we arrived in Atlanta

to sign the contract the next day

there were Klieg lights flashing in the sky,

a huge crowd was pressed up against the police line

and the first thing we heard was,

“We interrupt the “Johnny Carson Show”

to bring you a special news bulletin,

Steve Bartkowski and Leigh Steinberg have arrived.

We switch you live live.”

So I’d been raised by a father

who raised us with two core values.

One was, treasure relationships, especially family.

And the second

was try to make a meaningful, positive impact in the world

and help people who couldn’t help themselves.

And I saw then that the athletes could be role models

and if they retrace their roots to the high school community

and set up a scholarship fund,

boys and girls club, work with inner city kids

or at the university level,

they came back and repaid their scholarship

and bonded with those alums,

they could be mentored

and they could lay the foundation for second career.

And at the pro level we challenge each athlete

to find something in their own life

that they would like to tackle

and then put together a charitable foundation

with the leading business figures,

political figures and community leaders

to help project a program.

So that’s work done

who ran for Tampa and Atlanta

putting the 175th single mother and the family

in the first home they’ll ever own.

And by making the down payment and outfitting it.

Or it can be Patrick Mahomes

giving through his 15 and the Mahomies

to a whole variety of children’s charities,

but it’s athletes making a difference

and they also can message.

And in messaging,

I had the heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis

cut a public service announcement that said,

“Real men don’t hit women.”

And that could do more to trigger behavioral change

in rebellious adolescents in 1,000 authority figures.

So I had a pretty charmed life.

This is, next year will be my 48th draft,

but sometime in the 2000s, a series of things happened.

My two kids were diagnosed

with something called retinitis pigmentosa,

which is an eye disease

that leads to narrowing and ultimately blindness.

My father died a long death of cancer,

we lost a home in a beach side city to mold

and had to raise it to the ground.

And I was okay handling anything in my work life.

I understood there’d be adversity

and life will knock you back

and you can do anything you want,

it won’t really always turn out wonderful.

But I felt like Gulliver, sitting on the beach,

tethered down with no ability to solve these problems

with, well, a piercing sticking forks in me

and I turned to the wrong thing.

I turned to alcohol and I eventually devolved to a point

where I gave my practice away

to the younger lawyers, I closed down my home

and I went to live at my parents’ house at 61 years of age.

And the only thought as I sat on my father’s bed

was where and I find more alcohol?

Where can I find more vodka?

And I had an epiphany in that moment

that I wasn’t a starving peasant in Darfur,

I didn’t have the last name Steinberg in Nazi Germany

in the late ’30s.

I wasn’t crippled, so what excuse did I have

to not live up to that?

And so I went off to sober living,

worked a 12-step program with a unique fellowship.

And if I keep doing what I’m doing

I’ll, in a couple of months, be 12 years continuously sober.

(audience claps)

  • “It is better to light candles that to curse darkness.”

We you thank you for sharing that.

On that journey,

can you share more about some of your major allies?

Can you share about any advice

that you might have for others

going through similar challenges?

  • So I think the key in life,

the critical skill is your ability

to hone your listening skills.

It’s the ability to couple over surface

and understand the deepest anxieties

and fears of another person

and their greatest hopes and dreams,

but it requires creating trust and stillness

around another human being.

So they’ll couple over surface

and peel back the layers of the onion

so that they get deeper and deeper

and you actually bond.

You know, we wear masks very often,

not these but emotional masks,

and those masks stop people

from realizing the commonality of their problems.

And so when people don’t talk about mental health,

then they assume that they uniquely are having this problem.

That they’re the only person in the world,

but if we ever shared that and we’re open about it,

so I’ve always said that mental health is health,

it’s health, and it’s just another form of it.

And if we can take the stigma away from that

and message in a way,

so that I’ve had athletes who I encouraged to speak out

on mental health issues

and to talk about the fact that they’re hurting

or they’re depressed or they’re bipolar

or whatever they are,

but it takes some courage in a very much world to do that.

But it’s so important,

I’ve been open about my alcoholism

in the hope that someone out there

who’s struggling and impacted

is hopeless and desperate,

well, realize that help is available.

And we need to do exactly the same thing with mental health

because it’s treatable for the most part

and I’m so proud of all the students here

who have come up with different ways to create treatment,

to create awareness.

But one of the things that we talked about earlier today

was could you do a week of television

like they did about smoking

where every single dramatically scripted show

and comedic show that ran for a week

had mental health woven into their plot?

And somehow again, remove the stigma

and talk about the very real challenges that people face.

  • That resonates.

Leigh, thank you so much.

Thank you for your bravery and transparency

in sharing about that.

What you said about de-stigmatizing and raising awareness,

it lands, and you know, I could have mentioned this earlier,

but grateful for everyone coming here

as part of our Mental Healthcare Challenge

and appreciate all that you’re doing

in sharing your stories, being creative, being innovative

and being brave.

Leigh, let’s pivot a little bit.

Back to the sports world,

as the global dialogue

on mental health continues to be amplified,

its intersections with athletics and sports,

definitely gaining more traction,

withdrawals from competition

by Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, right?

To awareness efforts led by Michael Phelps,

and we talked about earlier,

NBA players DeMar DeRozan, Kevin Love,

I think society just has a far better appreciation

of these dynamics, some you just spoke to.

What’s going on with this trend?

Can you comment

on what factors made it so challenging previously

and where we’re going now with becoming more authentic

and more vulnerable?

  • So you now know that athletes have access to social media.

And so they’re expressing opinions all the time

and they blunt.

So the social currency today for an athlete

is how many followers you have on Twitter, Instagram,

God forbid, TikTok, Snapchat,

and I can’t dance,

but at any rate, it’s social currency,

so they’re able to define themselves

as they choose in a variety of different ways.

Thank goodness for Naomi Osaka

and thank goodness

for that wonderful, you know, Simone Biles,

because what they did in a worldwide forum

was to talk about the problems they were having

and not be afraid.

And it’s liberating for people

to hear that,

because again, you feel isolated, alone in a world.

I suffered when I was younger,

still suffer from low-level depression.

I’m not talking about debilitating,

like I could get out of bed,

but there were times when the world turned dark

and it was hard to see where the hope was

and where the future was.

And so I started using antidepressants, Prozac,

and I haven’t had that problem since.

And, oh my God, thank you for my life back

because it was just episodic.

So we can design programs for athletes.

If any of you,

I don’t know if there are any football fans here,

but Fox pregame did an interview

with an offensive lineman from the Green Bay Packers,

and Jay Glazer did it.

And he talked about his problems with depression.

And we can do more of that, we can do more of that,

and athletes especially have the ability, as I said before,

to trigger imitative behaviors, especially in young,

they are larger than life.

Whether they should be role models or not is,

I believe they should be role models,

but the point is we can have them do all sorts

of public service announcements

and like I talked about a week on TV,

we can start to be creative in terms of how we model this.

And I want my athletes to lead the way.

(audience claps)

  • I agree, I think the opportunity for these athletes,

many of them, as you say, larger than life,

there’s so much opportunity for them to champion, to lead.

How do we continue this, right?

How do we ensure that those support systems

are there so that they can continue-

  • Say the last part again.

  • How do we continue this?

How do we ensure that athletes grow more comfortable

sharing their experiences, right?

I’m thinking support systems, can it be the league,

can it be players associations?

  • So we have to take the structure

of pro sports and collegiate sports.

And that means leagues,

individual franchises, players associations,

agents have the same responsibility

and every person that interacts has to be on board.

So we have to get buy-in from all those groups

so that, look, what’s an athlete afraid of?

You’ll think he’s weak or she’s weak.

And you’ll start to think of them a different way.

If you have as crazy or demented or not all there,

and they’ll lose their place on the team

if they have to miss any time.

And so for an athlete, long-term health is an abstraction.

They live in a world of denial.

So I’ve been fighting the concussion fight for 30 years now

‘cause when we first went to doctors

and asked how many are too many, what’s the magic number,

they had no answers.

And so I’ve held 17 concussion conferences.

Here’s the problem,

athletes have been taught

from Little League and Pop Warner to ignore pain,

that real men don’t complain,

not to get left out of the unit.

And the only people who share those values

are our people in the service, army people,

you know, Navy, Marines,

so both are young groups of young people

and they’re in total denial.

So let’s say that if in your and my reality,

the key would be long-term health,

and way beneath that as a value

would be playing a pro career

and way below that as a value

would be playing in a given season,

and way below that the ability to play in a given game,

the athlete turns it on their head,

the play is everything, I have to play this play.

So you have young people’s denial, right?

And then you’ve got athletic denial,

so you got young people in an athletic group.

So it’s denial cubed or squared,

and it’s very difficult to penetrate

but we can do this through enlisting

at the collegiate level athletic directors,

chancellors, different people,

the medical staff that treats the players,

the trainers that treats the players,

to be very systematic and organized

about the way in which we integrate these concepts

that it’s okay to talk about mental health problems,

it’s okay to seek treatment and you can get better.

  • Yeah, thank you.

That dichotomy between the short-term, that next play,

and long-term health, it’s a challenge.

And what you said about rallying all the stakeholders, ADs,

trainers, uphill battle.

  • So, Songwen, think about the fact

that I would call an athlete up

who got a concussion in a game,

and I would say the first thing you need to do is rest.

The second thing you need to do is be asymptomatic

on an exercycle.

The third thing is asymptomatic at practice.

And only then can you consider going into a game

and don’t, if you got one and it took that,

the second one is like that.

And so I’d call up whoever, Ben Roethlisberger or someone

and they would play anyway.

So, you know it’s a battle, but it’s one worth having

and it’s where you got to keep chipping away at it.

But again, take the structure of high school, collegiate

and professional sports,

and at each level permeate the leadership there

and it’s like the way we tackled bullying.

I got college players to talk to high school players

about tolerance and said if you guys lead the way

at this high school,

and instead of, you know, making fun of someone

who’s got a harelip or is overweight

or (indistinct) or whatever, you put your arm around them,

you can change the culture

in that high school really quickly

‘cause athletes sit at the top of the food chain.

So it’s looking at every level

of how people get information,

what formulation there is in their attitudes.

And we need to teach about mental health

in elementary school, in junior high

and high school and all the way through.

  • Thank you for that.

And I agree, it is a comprehensive approach, right?

(audience claps)

Uphill battle, worth having those allies as a sports agent,

as an advocate.

I wanna talk a little bit more

about the broader industry, excuse me,

and the job, your job as a sports agent.

I think you answered

one of the questions I had coming up actually

about, you know, requiring the athletes that you represent

to create structure plans to give back to their communities.

I’d love for you to share a little bit more about that,

but also comment on how this has benefited those athletes

beyond the realm of just public relations and branding.

  • So I was raised by a father

who said that when you see a problem in the world,

and it could be as minor as picking this glass up or trash,

it could be as major as bad police shootings

and inner city circumstances,

it can be the environment or whatever,

and you wait for they or them to solve the problem,

so who are they or them?

They’re all the people, the political figures

or business leaders,

he would say you could wait forever.

The they is you, son, you are the they.

So if you take that sense of individual responsibility,

the enemy for athletes is self-absorption,

being part of a little teeny community of other athletes

where they are disconnected from everything else.

So the key is I’ll ask an athlete in the first session,

what skills or aspirations you have

other than athletic ones

so that you can try to design that?

Now self-absorption is like,

well, enough about me,

can we talk about how you feel about me?

(audience laughs)

That’s self-absorption.

So the key

is to get an athlete seeing himself as an active actor,

empowerment, empower them to be, you know, responsible

and develop different things.

So you can get them to be leaders by,

if you sit and talk with the athletes,

some of them had a parent who had mental illness.

Someone had mental illness themselves.

Some of them had someone who’s suffered

from sickle cell anemia or Tay-Sachs

or something or inner city kids or single mothers,

and it’s ferreting that out

and then we put, again, a charitable foundation

that’s got leading business figures, political figures

and community leaders to help execute that program.

So it’s making sure

that at least the athletes I work with

understand how they become empowered,

how they can take control of their own lives

so that second career is not a kind of death to them.

  • Yeah, what you said about empowering them, that resonates,

how do they continue to give back and be role models?

Let’s stay within the sports industry

but shift more to the job as a sports agent.

Can you comment on some of the diversity challenges

and opportunities within the sports agent industry?

Can you comment a little bit more

about how we get to a place where athletes

are represented more by people who look like them

and come from the same backgrounds?

  • Yes, (laughs).

So I think it’s really important in sports

that we have minority ownership

and we just don’t have enough of it.

You know, it’s basically lily-white ownership.

So that’s important

because the same way it was important

for President Obama to be president,

because then you get a young kid

not aspiring to be an athlete

but aspiring that you can be president of the United States,

that you can be a business leader,

that you can be this, that.

So it’s important to have that.

We need more executives

and more diversity

where we have our first female general manager

who’s from Vietnamese background,

we need more coaches, more head coaches to be that.

Now to do this, you’ve got to start the pool much earlier.

So when I was representing Warren Moon

who was a Hall of Fame quarterback

who had to go to Canada for six years

before he could come back into a prejudiced NFL,

the question was, how are we gonna solve this problem

of having these gifted athletes not playing this position

because of prejudice?

So the key

was to get high school African-American quarterbacks

that were 6'4" not to switch to play tight end

or something or another sport,

but to play drop-back passing quarterback.

You have to create the supply enough.

So for trying to create diversity,

we need training programs, whatever it is,

internships, places where we’re creating a big enough pool

that we can make this happen.

Because again, everyone in sports is a role model.

And as to the representation of,

I mean, we have African-American agents who work with us.

We have female agents who work with us.

We have an Asian-American who works with us.

I’m trying to create, with a woman I have now,

the first great female sports agent.

‘Cause I think that’s important too.

And when we hit these breakthroughs,

remember when I was growing up,

there were no women in broadcast news.

Can you imagine?

No women in broadcast news.

Forget a sportswriter, forget all of that,

and then this ceiling gets broken

and then we don’t even remember

that that was ever true.

And so you have to work consistently on diversity

and you have to remain committed to it

and you have to be clever and creative.

So one of the things we do is we have an agent academy,

but we also have a sports career conference.

And there we bring,

well, I’m trying to mentor the next generation

of talented sports professionals

who have ethics and values and don’t use,

well, I was talking with the dean

about the concept of situational ethics.

So part of what’s wrong with this society

is that people use one set of ethics to be a nice father,

to be a good neighbor, to be nice to cats and dogs,

and then go out in the workplace

and use heinous social Darwin tactics

because after all the end justifies the means, right?

And that leads to a bifurcation

and a type of soul death, right?

Because if you’re maintaining these two antithetical values

and operating in different parts of your life,

it creates dissonance

that is very difficult.

  • Yeah, thank you for sharing that, Leigh.

Thinking back to the question

about challenges and opportunities,

I agree that it’s comprehensive,

it’s systemic, it’s upstream.

Further downstream thinking about what you said

about the great sports agents,

staying within the industry here,

can you share more about the biggest differentiator

between successful sports agents today

compared to those when you helped build the industry?

  • Yes.

Well, if Rip Van Winkle had gone to sleep when I started,

and awoke today, he’d be in culture shock

because none of you will remember this,

but we lived in a world

where if you called somebody on the phone

and they didn’t answer, it rang busy, okay?

And there were no cell phones.

There was no computers.

You had to have a roll of quarters to go to a payphone.

That’s a phone that you put money in to pay for.

And it was, you know, totally different.

So teams at that stage in the NFL made $2 million

as their share of the national TV contract.

Last year, they made 200 million per team per season

and they just did a new contract for 10 years.

And some art of him and you could, like art,

you could get one to 50 and buy that,

or you could buy one individual one.

So we put him up for charity for 20 minutes

and he sold $3.2 million worth of this.

Now it doesn’t exist except on your computer screen, okay?

So get that,

if you can get that thinking and understand where we are,

it’s now you have NILs on campus,

and since July 1st, the whole world of college athletics

has turned upside down.

And so now where I would talk to a football player

they would have to be three years on campus

to come out in the draft, right?

So you’d start talking to them right as they go

into that third year.

Today, high school players can sign NILs.

So it moves the whole time frame.

You know, again, pretty soon I’ll be going

to, you know, maternity wards trying to sign young kids,

the babies and, you know, the birth twice.

So the key in all this

is a world just revolutionized and changed.

So we’ve got a whole generation,

not that any of you would be part of it,

but a whole generation that is brought up on big screen,

color and sound and fast cutting and multitasking

and stuff swimming over you,

the concept of imagination that you would go out in the yard

and find a box and create a game, no more.

So social media has figured out really cleverly

how to addict young people to likes and to text responses.

They’ll go absolutely crazy if not enough people liked them,

oh my God, it’s a rejection to me as a human being,

no one liked me in the last 10 seconds.

So it means I gotta get whatever I’m doing.

It attenuates attention span,

it subverts the concept of patience.

And so one of the things you gotta do today, Songwen,

is get it out fast.

If you think an athlete sitting there for an hour

listening to this elongated pitch, they’re not, you know.

So you better talk fast or you condense.

So it’s a different generation of Gen Z.

  • Absolutely, absolutely different generation,

different innovations, revolutions, innovation,

non-fungible tokens, as you say,

and see how the name, image and likeness law

manifests over time.

Leigh, lemme ask you one final planned question for you.

Thank you for sharing all that you did,

appreciate that we covered all these important themes

for mental health advocacy.

A lighter question.

Aside from the obvious “Jerry Maguire,”

what’s your favorite sports movie?

  • (laughs) My favorite sports movie

goes well before your time.

It would be, there’s a movie called “Pride of the Yanks.”

Every sports movie based on a true story

that has an aspirational curve to it

that goes from conflict and failure

to fruition makes money all day long.

And so after I worked on “Jerry Maguire”

which is loosely based on me,

and then I worked on a movie called “Any Given Sunday”

and a rap guy

was supposed to play the quarterback in it,

but he couldn’t throw the football.

So I was technical advisor.

So he said, “What do you think of him throwing a football?”

I said, “When I went to Berkeley

there were powder puff quarterbacks

who could throw better than he did.”

So I said, “You can’t use them unless you wanna double them

in every scene.”

So they fired him

and it gave a young comedic actor his first dramatic role

and that was Jamie Foxx, so that was a fun one.

So my favorite, oh, I said I love them,

I thought “The Blind Side” was great.

I thought “Radio” was great.

I thought “Hoosiers” was great.

I thought the Denzel Washington film,

oh my God, he’s anything he does, yeah.

  • Awesome.

Leigh, thank you so much for sharing.

So glad to have you here.

(audience claps)

  • Thank you, thank you so much.

We now have an opportunity for some Q and A.

So some of you would like to ask a question,

you can go to the mic in the back

and that way people who are viewing this possibly online

can also hear the question.


and please identify yourself.

  • Hey, Leigh, thanks for coming, thanks for the time.

My name is Muhammad, I’m an MBA student here.

I wanted to follow up on doing more for athletes

where you were talking about particularly ex-athletes,

average NFL career, I think, is something like three years,

NBA is something like four years.

So what’s being done for that population,

the ex-athlete population?

And who do you think,

is there any one group that’s better positioned, I guess,

to do something more for them than anybody else?

  • Could you repeat the question, Ann?

  • Oh, you want me to repeat the question?

Mohammad is asking what is being done for athletes

after they terminate their career as an athlete?

Is that the question?

  • [Mohammad] That’s right, particularly for mental health

and for sort of the financial support.

  • For mental health?

  • [Mohammad] Right.

  • Not enough is the first answer,

but it’s all in the preparation of it.

So if I’ve done my job right,

I ought to pick up the fact

that someone’s depressed or bipolar

or whatever they are early enough

that we can get them help.

They’ve got the same stigma and worry, you know,

to be open and honest about it,

but teams are actually fine

and you’d be pleased for how they are.

They’ve got access to the best mental health professionals.

People are dying to work for the teams.

So the whole thing is to get them to be open

and not have the thing be discovered

in the course of a bad incident, right?

In other words, the time to discover that

is not when you have someone in domestic violence

or in a fight or in a drunk driving or whatever it is,

the time to discover is early.

So we need to do a better job

of getting our team physicians and trainers

to bring this out.

And the players worry

that it’ll be in their health records, right?

And it might be somehow used

as a reason to obviate a guarantee or not pay them,

or, you know, do whatever.

So not enough but it’s,

if they can pick it up early enough,

we have pretty effective techniques,

but a lot of times it doesn’t come out

until something horrible happens.

  • [Mohammad] Got it, thank you.

  • You’re welcome.

  • Hi, I’m Angel.

I’m an MBA student from the East Coast.

I wanna thank you for your time.

We’ve spoken a lot about athletes and about agents.

I’d love to hear your perspective on another stakeholder

in the ecosystem, specifically investors and financiers.

Given this as a business atmosphere,

what are the types of structural issues

that have incentivized investors

to make conflicting decisions

that might come at the cost of athlete mental health?

And even agents,

if agent compensation is tied to athlete contract,

do you feel like your role has pushed you to make decisions

that might have encouraged adverse outcomes for athletes?

  • Ann, can you just paraphrase?

(audience laughs)

  • Yes, absolutely delighted to.

I think the question is, is for investors

as well as for agents,

might they have the wrong incentives

because of the system to support solutions to mental health?

  • Yes, if they,

so look, I mean, for years it was shut up and play.

In other words, the point is that put it under the rug.

You know, you do own a professional sports team,

you know, the Dallas Cowboys are now worth $5 billion.

So if you were to lose a key player

for a mental health issue and he couldn’t perform,

we have something called a salary cap now.

So that means it’s starters, starting players,

make huge amounts of money

but their backups are very relatively weak

and free agents or people playing for lease.

So the institution wants a player out playing,

the investor wants a player out playing,

and they just assume to not know.

So that’s the impediment,

which is the standard is so different

and what a team wants

is productivity on the field.

They, in general as a business,

they’re not in the mental health business.

So that’s why we have to sensitize them to it.

And for the advantages and then other modalities,

I was talking today about hyperbaric oxygen

and a process called rTMS

that helps people with concussions and other depression,

right stem and all the rest of it.

So we have to be innovative

in the techniques we use with these athletes

because the cutting edge of biomed

is far ahead of the regular standard of medicine.

  • [Angel] Thanks.

  • Hello, Leigh.

My name is John, I teach accounting here-

  • [Leigh] He said what?

  • Accounting, he teaches- - Accounting, yeah.


I got a question about,

you mentioned Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka

dealing with their mental health

they did get some pushback from some folks on social media.

How would you counsel athletes to deal with that?

Just stay off social media or how would they cope

with the need to look after the mental health

and without-

  • Well, the first thing is to be really clear

about what the state of their mental health is

because by the time Simone Biles

is deciding she can’t compete,

people have already judged her.

You know, they’re not thinking of it in a larger way.

If you could get out in front of that,

having a press statement or either a statement,

a press conference, something that says,

look, I’ve given my whole life to gymnastics

and I’ve given my whole life

to support American gymnastics.

And I’ve spent all these years preparing for this.

So it’s a crushing blow not to be able to do this

but I don’t wanna be 100 feet high in the air

and discover a can’t flip and break my neck.

So it’s trying to unionize that issue

and get it across in palpable ways

that people can relate to in their own lives.

And it’s,

look, all some people wanna do

is when they beat other countries in the Olympics

so we can brag about it,

but there are larger issues, right?

And so it’s just being able to make that case,

which was difficult at first with Simone

because it was just happening

and she didn’t know that she’d be unable to perform.

She didn’t have any lead time.

But in the best of all worlds,

you could have started drawing that

out of her ahead of time

so you’d have some notice.

  • [John] Okay, thank you.

  • Thank you.

  • Greetings, Mr. Steinberg, I am Wycliffe Florizel,

a one-year professional MBA candidate

currently studying

at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

So, you have a vision of treating mental health

like any other form of health

but I think mental health is a little different

from any other form of health.

Like for example, like if I’m bleeding

or if I break a bone,

like I know I have to go to the doctor,

so my question to you is where do we draw the line

between someone who needs help from a mental standpoint

and someone who is actually mentally healthy?

  • So, what’s that last distinction?

Where do you draw the line what?

  • Between, can you read? - So,

where do we draw the line

between someone who actually needs help

from a mental standpoint

versus someone who actually is mentally healthy?

  • I believe the question is,

he’s trying to ask,

and correct me if I’m misinterpreting here,

but where’s that line drawn

determining when somebody needs help

with their mental health

versus is there even a mentally healthy?

Is that fair?

  • Yes, that’s a fair way to put it.

  • [Songwen] Okay.

  • So some would argue

that we’re all mentally unhealthy in this society

and especially after last year of the pandemic,

I would leave that up to the professionals.

So I would call into, you know, a psychologist

or someone else and get a second opinion.

I’m a lay psychologist but not a real one.

So you really have to go to the experts

to draw the line.

If it’s enough that it’s troubling them

and they’re talking about it, then it’s it’s enough.

And remember the thing about mental health

is everyone has amazing sympathy

for someone wearing a cast, right?

Oh my God, you broke your arm, oh my God, this,

you can’t see mental illness

except if someone’s walking down Telegraph Avenue

talking in tongues or something,

I mean, you can identify

that there are people walking around on streets

that have a problem,

but you’re gonna have to rely on the experts.

And, you know, my point is first don’t do any harms.

So I don’t want to,

but I’d ask an expert.

  • [Wyclef] Thank you.

  • Hi, Leigh, my name is J.P.,

I’m a first year MBA student.

So since you started your career,

the NFL has changed pretty dramatically

but you stuck around.

I’m very impressed by your longevity.

Can you talk about some of the principles you’ve carried

through your career

that have allowed you to sustain your success?

Thank you.

  • So, the first thing I tell people to do

is an internal inventory of what values are most important.

So how does short-term economic gain feature in your life

or long-term economic security or the ability or family

or geographical location or autonomy

or, you know, making a difference in the world or whatever?

So if you have clarity as to what your own values are,

the most consistent theme is helping people.

So it was clear to me I could do that in two ways.

I could stimulate the best values in people

but all I’m doing is inheriting usually the parents work

who’ve done such a great job.

And the second is what together can we do

to make an impact in the world,

like the Sporting Green Alliance

or whatever we’ve taken on?

And what has always saved me is resilience.

It’s life will knock you back,

it knocks all of us back.

You’re not gonna succeed in everything,

you’re gonna have untoward circumstances has happened,

and it’s human to get destabilized a little bit,

but, you know, I’m the guy who,

if there’s a barn filled with horse poop, defecation,

I’m sure there’s a pony in there somewhere,

it’s gotta be there somewhere, you know.

So it’s a sense of optimism and not giving up

in the face that the world didn’t change totally,

notwithstanding our best efforts

as I couldn’t totally do it,

but it’s feeling money’s not a part of it.

I mean,

my father, if I came home and told him

that I did a contract for zillion dollars,

he’d say, “Gee, that’s great, I hope the player’s happy.”

But if I told him that, you know, we just did a program

that helps inner city kids

or, you know, establish a police-community dialogue

that resulted in people being safer,

he’d throw his arms around me.

So the consistent principal

has been trying to make a difference in a positive way

in the world.

And so,

I wrote a book on the art of negotiating

called “Winning with Integrity.”

And the whole key was when you watch human beings interact,

if you can’t establish a paradigm of cooperation,

then people will get locked into positions.

And when they get locked in,

it’s really hard to get them out.

So the point is in human interaction

you have to find a way to establish trust

and the rest of it.

So my thing has been not to care about myself

but to care what I can do

to enhance other people’s lives, I’m fine.

  • [J.P.] All right, thank you.

  • Yeah.

(audience claps)

  • Hi, my name is Michael.

I’m a PhD student in statistics

in the East Coast at Duke University.

I’m more of an NBA junkie myself.

In the past few years

there’ve been a lot of all-star level players

who have spoken out about mental health struggles,

Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan,

and most recently there’s been a lot of media attention

on the Philadelphia 76ers with Ben Simmons

and the recent mental health struggles

that he’s been going through.

There’s this prevailing sentiment within the media

and maybe popular culture

that maybe he’s almost like faking some of his issues

or the Philadelphia 76ers

aren’t doing enough to support him.

There’s two sides of the issue.

My question for you

is how do teams balance providing mental health resources

for athletes and being understanding

of their personal situations

in the backdrop of million dollar contracts,

billion dollar TV deals,

how do they strike the right balance in doing this?

  • Thank you.

So I think the key

is introspection at the beginning of a career,

it’s clarity as to who they are and what their goals are,

and just surrounding themselves

with people who will tell them the truth, okay?

So if an athlete

was up on a 90-story building on the ledge

and he was about to jump,

he’d be surrounded by sycophants and toadies and posses

and other people would say,

law of gravity doesn’t apply to you.

You know, you’re the man, go ahead

and, you know, you can fly.

So the harder part in working with athletes

is just telling them the truth,

is being willing to and to pound them over the head

but you can’t let them be oblivious to what they’re facing.

You’ve got to have the courage in that relationship

to actually help the person

not just worry about, would they fire you

or would they be angry

if you suggested that they could use some counseling

or some help?

And so,

again, like I said, self-absorption’s the problem.

And if you can bring someone out of that,

my players are gonna,

except if your name is Tom Brady,

are gonna have their career over in their 30s,

some of them earlier.

So the question is, what else are your skills?

What else are your talents?

And moreover, if you substitute newspaper clippings

and profile and material things

for any inner spiritual sense or any way of being balanced,

those whole fade, newspaper clippings fade, fame fades.

One of the problems that athletes have in second career

is they’re used to structure.

They’re used to being told

this is what you’re doing this hour, this hour, this hour,

this is what you’re doing in the calendar.

You know, follow your itinerary.

They’re used to structure

and they’re surrounded by comradery,

man to brothers and sisters, that’s amazing.

And so all of a sudden they get divorced from that.

They have no structure unless you’ve preplanned with them.

They have no structure

and they’re not surrounded every day by this group of people

that they believe will cover their derriere, right?

So balance is critical and you have to be willing,

you know when they say speak truth to power,

you have to be willing to speak truth to clients

if you really have a fiduciary responsibility to them.

  • [Michael] Well said, thank you so much for your answer.

  • [Ann] I think we have time for one more question.

  • Oh, thank you, Ann.

(audience laughs)

Leigh, thank you for being here.

My name is Bill, I’m a member of the faculty here at Haas.

And you talked about NILs for college athletes

and even high school athletes.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on overtime elites

and other programs like it

that are basically recruiting high school athletes

and turning them pro.

So I’m interested to know your thoughts

on what it does for your business

but also for you personally,

do you see yourself sitting in the living room

of a 16-year-old athlete

talking to his or her parents in the future?

  • Can you- - The question is,

as opportunities come to younger and younger athletes,

will sports agents soon be sitting in the living rooms

of 16-year-olds athletes?

  • So generally that relationship happens.

I don’t see myself doing that.

I mean, the beauty of the clients I have is the, you know,

when you go to college,

you may argue that athletes didn’t take the same courses,

they did this, but I am telling you,

your average football player

was on a college campus exposed to different things.

And they are reasonably sophisticated, okay?

Compared to a player who comes out of high school

and goes into the minor leagues.

And so I don’t see myself being involved with that

except if it was Olympic athlete,

because they’re just competing in the deal.

But it’s a hard,

generally the way that the fortunate athletes

have their parents involved as screeners.

So you’re not really talking to the athlete,

you’re talking to the parents or to a third party

and that to me,

so I may never talk to a college football player

until he’s ended this last season

and I’m just talking to the parents.

And so representing Tua Tagovailoa,

I’m talking to his parents.

So that I’m okay to do,

you know, again, if a 16-year-old gymnast came to me

and was gonna be in that profile anywhere, I could see it,

but the rest of it, it’s just too young.

And plus I don’t think they’re great candidates

for role modeling and all the rest of it quite yet.

They haven’t lived enough life to be telling other people.

So, NILs are all over the country.

They thought it was gonna be just the stars but it’s not,

it’s whole schools

and alums are using it to use their businesses,

like Phil Knight, to enrich an entire program, right?

So alums own a business,

the business signs a bunch of players to NILs,

and all of a sudden they’ve re-energized their program.

And programs are using that in recruiting.

I never thought I’d see the day that Nick Saban,

a very conservative University of Alabama football coach,

would say of his unproven, untested freshmen quarterback,

that normally he would keep expectations down for, okay?

You don’t wanna put more pressure on this.

And he came out in a press conference and said,

“Bryce Young has signed a million dollars worth of deals.”

In what alternative did Nick more often dissent?

No, he’s recruiting, is what he’s doing.

He’s saying, you come to Alabama

you can make a million dollar.

I don’t wanna be part of that.

Like, I’ll give you an example,

the first two years of Patrick Mahomes career,

we did virtually no marketing deals.

We wanted to prove to the people of Kansas City

that the engine that pulls the train is performance

and allows it’s courage to develop.

And so I didn’t take Bryce Young as a client.

I thought he was too young.

(audience laughs)

  • [Bill] Thank you.

  • Thank you very much.

Thank you to Songwen, thank you to Leigh.

(audience claps)

Thanks very much.

If there are any questions,

I’m sure Leigh will be willing to talk to you afterwards

for a couple of minutes.

Leigh, we really appreciate you going beyond yourself

and sharing your experiences with us.

We feel very, very honored today.

Thank you again.

  • [Leigh] Thank you.

(audience claps)