A Movie About Agents? So There's No Moral to It?

A recent visitor to the Newport Beach office that runs the businesses of some of the NFL's best players walked into a startling sight.

In one chair was Robert Wuhl, the actor who plays the sports agent in the HBO comedy "Arliss."

In another chair was Leigh Steinberg, the sports agent who sometimes plays an actor.

Behind them was a big-screen TV that has been showing trailers for the movie "Jerry Maguire," starring Tom Cruise in the role of . . . a sports agent.

In the subterranean world of those who represent athletes, where perception dresses in a different locker room than reality, it's getting increasingly difficult to figure out whom to believe.

A popular answer would be, none of the bums.

The recent spate of interest in sports agents--which should peak with the "Jerry Maguire" release this week--is rather curious considering everybody hates them.

At least, when it's in their interest to hate them.

The public hates agents (except when they're bringing good players to town). The owners hate agents (except when they're wooing them to bring good players to town). The media hate agents (except when they're using them for scoops).

How this makes any of us less self-serving than the agent remains a mystery.

Although, we hope, some of us are covered with less sleaze.

A true agent story: A pro prospect was flown by his agent to Los Angeles before the NFL draft. He was treated to a concert by a popular band, treated to dinner, shown the sights.

When the prospect was later taken in the fourth round, the agent billed him for the weekend.

Not every agent is like this. From A (Leonard Armato) to W (Gary Wichard), there are decent ones throughout this town. Yet the two most important things to realize about agents are these:

--Anybody can be one.

--It's nearly impossible to be an honorable one.

It is a business with few rules, yet many agents break them, convincing players to dump other agents, buying them off college campuses before their eligibility is finished, holding them out of training camps to settle a grudge.

Another true agent story: A recent NFL scouting combine was interrupted when two agents engaged in a fistfight over a player. Right in the hotel lobby.

"It was one of those fights where nobody wanted to break it up," said an onlooker.

Cynics might define an agent as one who can tell a national magazine that he is a good liar, and consider it bragging.

That would be Drew Rosenhaus, 160 pounds of grease who represented so many Miami Dolphins during Don Shula's final year, he helped create the divisive locker room that was eventually Shula's undoing.

Rosenhaus will see himself in one of the more ruthless characters in "Jerry Maguire."

That character's counterpart, ultimately-good-hearted Jerry Maguire, was written after writer-director Cameron Crowe's research of Steinberg.

At the beginning of the movie, Jerry Maguire writes a mission statement for his large firm. He urges fellow agents to work for the betterment of society, to be unafraid of giving back to the community.

We're not giving anything away here to note that the statement gets him fired.

Steinberg heard about it and smiled. After leading Crowe through the NFL's inner hallways for three years, at everything from Super Bowl parties to pre-draft negotiating sessions, he thinks the guy got it right.

If Steinberg worked for a larger firm, this 47-year-old, snuff-dipping, shirttail dangling type would have been gone long ago.

He will not negotiate a contract that does not include a clause diverting some of the money to charity.

He insists that his players be available and open to the media.

After he was charged with misdemeanor drunk driving this year--for which he is now planning community service while attending two alcohol programs--he issued an apology in which he had the nerve to call himself a role model.

After all, since when is a role model's lawyer a role model himself?

One final true agent story:

A writer was once walking past a meeting room off a stadium tunnel in which Warren Moon, one of Steinberg's longtime clients, was speaking to dozens of young men and women.

Who are they, the writer asked?

"All that money that goes from Moon's contract to charity?" said a woman from the group. "That sent those kids to college."

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