- The Washington Times - Monday, July 22, 2019

Over a 40-minute span inside a classroom at the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies, Leigh Steinberg wanted his would-be sports agents to try to do what the Washington Redskins and Kirk Cousins could not: agree to a new contract.

As part of his “Agent Academy” — a seminar designed to teach attendees what it takes to be a sports agent — the legendary real-life inspiration for the “Jerry Maguire” movie divided the room into two groups: half would be Cousins, the other half, the Redskins.

To Steinberg, the Redskins-Cousins standoff of 2018 that resulted in the quarterback leaving for a record-breaking deal with the Minnesota Vikings, represents a perfect teaching moment.

“Shows what happens when you get a breakdown (between parties),” said Steinberg, who has been using the Cousins’ example for the last few years at his seminars. “The big problem with the quarterback is, if you don’t sign your incumbent, who? Who then? That was an unusual situation because so few players have ever gone through a couple (franchise tags) like that.”

Steinberg, 70, uses real-life examples as training exercises and encourages students to re-enact complicated negotiations in part because he wants people to realize that being an agent is more tedious than what’s portrayed in the movies. He wants the attendees to show him their work, not the money.

Steinberg has been taking his academy on the road since 2014, sharing his thoughts on the business with a new generation of potential sports agents in an era when his industry has become increasingly competitive, cutthroat and hard to crack.

In his class in the District over the weekend, Steinberg hosted roughly 40 attendees, some of whom already have established careers.

Steinberg’s advice? Listen, network and know what you’re getting into.

“We have to be more realistic about the downsides,” Steinberg said. “They’ll visualize me at a movie or at a premiere, sitting with (Chiefs quarterback Patrick) Mahomes when he wins MVP. They’re not seeing the downside of it, so we talk about that.

“But I encourage people — rather than sitting there wasting their life, if they want to make a move.”

There are more than 850 certified agents, according to the NFL Players Association’s website. Becoming one, however, is a complicated process. One, agents must have two degrees — a bachelor’s and a secondary degree (like a master’s or a law degree). Two, those who qualify pay a one-time, nonrefundable fee of $2,500 to the NFLPA just for the opportunity to take the agent exam.

After the NFLPA conducts background checks on wannabe agents — a process that can take four months — applicants who are approved receive notifications about the exam in June. That leaves them with only a month to study. The agent exam takes place every year in mid-July in the District.

Jackson Magnini, a 29-year-old with a master’s in sports industry management from Georgetown, knows all about this process. A day before attending Steinberg’s academy, Magnini took the three-hour, 60-question test for the first time.

Potential agents are only allowed to take the exam twice — meaning if Magnini fails, he’ll have to wait until next year to apply for the final time.

“The ‘PA is not anxious to get more agents,” said Magnini, who noted how the score it takes to get certified can vary from year to year, depending on the strength of the class. “They kind of feel like there is enough as is, so they want to make the process as challenging as possible to get the lowest number of new agents in.”

Despite already having taken the exam, Magnini said he thought Steinberg’s class was useful.

Beyond negotiating, Steinberg went over the recruiting process, sponsorships, damage control and the process of setting up charitable foundations.

Each had an activity to go alongside with it. Attendees, for example, were asked how they would handle the press if they were agents for Jameis Winston, who was suspended three games after he was accused of groping an Uber driver.

Not everyone in the class was based solely out of the District, either. Cameron Melancon, a 27-year-old law student from Mississippi, was visiting friends in Georgetown and wanted to attend the seminar.

Likewise, Mike Chen, a 34-year-old lawyer, registered for the class despite living in New Hampshire. Chen figured he could stay with his parents in Round Hill, Virginia. Both have dreams of becoming agents.

“We’re changing lives here.” Steinberg said. “I’d like to leave the sports business better than I found it.”

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