COSTA MESA — Don't ever underestimate the impact that professional sports has on the psyche of the American people, especially those who live and breathe athletics.
When Lennox Lewis, the professional boxer, announced in a commercial that "Real men don't hit women," his words probably made some men think twice about spousal abuse.
And when Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, spoke out against bullies in schools, his advice didn't fall on deaf ears — he had just led his team to win the Super Bowl.
The impact of athletes' words on others was the message delivered Tuesday by Leigh Steinberg, the Newport Beach sports agent who partly inspired the Tom Cruise film "Jerry Maguire."
Steinberg spoke at the California Diversity and Inclusion Conference sponsored by the University of Phoenix at the Hilton Orange County.
"This concept of athletes being role models … it's made a difference," said Steinberg, 61, inside the Terrace Fountain room. "Our athletes bleed diversity. They are a living, breathing testimony to diversity. They're not just five talking heads on 'This Week in Washington.' They're real people who live with one another on and off the field and in the locker rooms."