BETTER TO GIVE
Leigh Steinberg is a 27-year-old Los Angeles lawyer who, if he combed his hair, put on a tie and sat up straight, could maybe pass for 24. Yet on behalf of his 30 athlete-clients, Steinberg bargains successfully with the corporate giants of sport. His latest contract negotiation was with the Chicago Bears for the services of University of California Offensive Tackle Ted Albrecht. Albrecht signed a five-year contract for $425,000, reportedly the largest sum ever given a Chicago lineman.
Steinberg could be just another lawyer getting rich from making athletes rich, if it were not for an unusual agreement he has with his clients. Each athlete he represents agrees to two things: first, voluntarily to reduce his salary, should his team's owners reduce ticket prices. That idea came to Steinberg while he was negotiating his first contract after law school—Steve Bartkowski's with the Atlanta Falcons in 1975. Steinberg says that in the midst of talk about huge sums of money, it occurred to him that the fan was not being represented in the bargaining. "I love sports," Steinberg says, "and I don't want to see a day when the only tickets sold are corporate boxes." He would like to get the concept into his contracts, but so far no owner will go along.
Second, a Steinberg client agrees to recognize his debt to his high school, college, profession or community by a method of his own devising. Albrecht, for instance, has endowed an annual scholarship at his high school in Vallejo, Calif. Dave Hampton, the Oakland Raider running back, will give $1 for every yard he gains this year to sickle-cell anemia research; Wide Receiver Steve Rivera of the 49ers contributes to the Special Olympics for the handicapped and gives tickets to boys' clubs; Joel (Cowboy) Parrish, the Cincinnati Bengal guard, has set up a high school scholarship back home in Douglas, Ga.; Running Back Mark Bailey of the K. C. Chiefs is planning ways to help the aged in Southern California; Offensive Tackle Alfred Jenkins of the New Orleans Saints will donate to the United Negro College Fund.
Steinberg says his most imaginative client is Wide Receiver Pat McInally of Harvard and the Bengals, who, he says, "phones at all hours of the day and night to talk about colonizing a desert island, or establishing a home for starving woodcut artists or whatever."
To Steinberg's unusual mind, such thinking is good for the players, good for sport and useful as an antidote to stories about athletes with three Rolls-Royces and floor-length fur coats.
"What," he asks, "is a guy who makes eight, 10, 12 thousand a year supposed to think when he reads that Roy Jefferson is telling Congress how tough it is to live on $65,000 a year?"
Steinberg, by the way, contributes to Amnesty International, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the United Fund and University of California football.
Saturday at the Del Mar racetrack near San Diego was the kind of day Alec Guinness used to make very funny movies about. It seems that the armored transport company that delivers $2.1 million to the track on weekend racing days showed up last Saturday morning $1.9 million short. A snafu at the San Diego office, involving a new driver and a vault with a time lock, was said to be the cause.