Known as the first super agent, Steinberg said Wednesday that he takes responsibility for debts of several million dollars.
"I just lost track while I was in rehab," Steinberg told The Associated Press. He said he struggled with alcohol for years but has been sober since 2010.
The bankruptcy filing comes weeks after an Orange County Superior Court commissioner authorized but didn't issue a bench warrant for Steinberg after he failed to appear in court in a case involving a $1.4 million debt. Steinberg said his attorney agreed to change the date of a hearing, told him not to show up and then failed to reschedule.
The agent said his debts are larger than the $1.4 million owed to the Irvine Co., and that his attorneys are still compiling the total. He said his only assets are some stock.
Steinberg has represented NFL stars such as Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Steve Young and Ben Roethlisberger. He was the inspiration for Tom Cruise's character in 1996's "Jerry Maguire." The movie turned "Show me the money!" into an enduring catchphrase.
Steinberg issued a statement shortly after the filing.
He said he delayed filing for bankruptcy for several years "because of my moral and legal obligation to people who advanced me funds or performed services in good faith. But the constant and aggressive collection efforts and press initiatives undertaken by creditors have harassed my family and prevented me from working to be able to pay these debts."
He said prospective clients have been pushed away after hearing of his debts.
"It doesn't seem logical to prevent a person who owes you money from working in their chosen field by attempting to ruin his reputation, but that is what has happened," he said. "I have lived with this in recent years, and it is time to follow a more constructive path."
Steinberg said he struggled with alcohol. In the past five or six years, "I began to check out episodically for short periods. My judgment and oversight of my affairs was not consistent and at times impaired. I am responsible for my own addiction — no one forced me to drink — and in revealing my struggle with alcoholism, I am in no way justifying or excusing my circumstance. But I discuss it to provide context as well as understanding and inspiration to those who also battle addictive behavior. I surrendered to the reality that I was an alcoholic and my behavior was impacting family and associates in March 2010. I surrendered to the concept that until I tackled alcoholism, other priorities needed to be put aside. ... I am responsible for these debts. But my priority was sobriety, and I have been continuously sober since that time."
The agent said the underlying cause of his inability to earn money and resolve his debt situation occurred in 2003.
"One of my employees admitted that — without my knowledge — he had taken a $300,000 loan from one of our NFL clients," Steinberg said in his statement. "It was exactly the kind of transaction that I had specifically forbidden, and it violated NFL Players Association regulations. The NFL player understandably fired me, then went to a rival agency. As a matter of background, you should know that this company is run by an agent who used to work at our firm. We filed a lawsuit to challenge the way this agent had left our firm, and we won. Two attorneys on the losing side are involved in the current case concerning my debt."
Ten years ago, Steinberg had a bitter legal fight with former partner David Dunn, who took dozens of NFL player clients and formed his own agency.
"Since then, I have made repeated offers to repay the player far more than the original $300,000," the statement continued.
"There are many legal complexities, but in a nutshell, his representatives — the ones who lost the lawsuit — have insisted on collecting monies without informing the NFLPA that the matter is settled. This point is crucial because I did not apply for recertification by the union after one of their agents (and his wife) filed suit against me in 2006. If I cannot be recertified, I cannot work in the field that I have been trained in, which is to the benefit of this rival agent. Keeping me out of business seems to be a priority above collecting the debt, and although substantial payments have been made, the demand is now four times the original amount. My attempts to rebuild my life have been hamstrung.
"I have attempted to make amends for damage my drinking caused to others. I believe that I have many productive years ahead and hope through this process that once again I will be able to make a positive impact on athletes and the world."