Former NFL players coming to UC speaker series Jan. 21 - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Former NFL players coming to UC speaker series Jan. 21

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Photo courtesy of Mark Schlereth. “Under Review: the Future of Football and the NFL” will take place in Riggleman Hall’s Geary Auditorium on UC’s campus Jan. 21. Photo courtesy of Mark Schlereth. “Under Review: the Future of Football and the NFL” will take place in Riggleman Hall’s Geary Auditorium on UC’s campus Jan. 21.

As a former offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins, Mark Schlereth had plenty of success, including earning Super Bowl rings with both teams and All-Pro and All-NFL individual honors.

These days he is one of the most respected commentators on a variety of ESPN programming, on both TV and radio.

But now, he deals with a degree of physical pain. He had 29 surgeries directly related to his football career.

He escaped debilitating brain injury despite banging heads during his 12-year National Football League career as an offensive lineman. 

He currently serves as a valuable resource, from a player's perspective, on issues that have been in the national spotlight of late. Schlereth will be joined by fellow ESPN commentator and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Merril Hoge at the University of Charleston Speaker Series on Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at Riggleman Hall's Geary Auditorium. 

The program is titled "Under Review: The Future of Football and the NFL."

Despite weather concerns, the event is still scheduled to go on as planned, according to Scott Castleman, University of Charleston Communications Director. Admission is free.

"There's not a game that I played in my career that I didn't knock myself out, where I had a split second when I blacked out," Schlereth shared in an interview with The State Journal. "I don't know how many hundreds of concussions that I've had. There were a lot.

"I saw stars. That's part of what they talk about in concussions. I started 160 games in my career and all of the practices as well.

"You think about those things," he added. "Every time you lose your keys, you think to yourself, ‘Uh-oh, wait a minute now.' But then there's guys like (Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end and current broadcaster) Mike Ditka. He's still as sharp as a tack and he got knocked around as much as anybody."

Making the game safer for participants while also keeping the spirit of the game is something the NFL is facing. 

Rule changes that could make the popular sport a shell of its wildly popular yet violent self could jeopardize its integrity, some argue.

"I don't see how you could change rules and also not have a dramatic effect on the game," said Schlereth. "The problem for guys like me that whine about the rules changes, it's not so much about the rules than the implementation of the fines and penalties. For guys that are playing football and doing their jobs, and getting fines … I'm all for fining and penalizing malicious intent."

But Schlereth said he didn't think there was a lot of malicious intent on the field.

"I played for 12 years, and I realize there are some bad people, just like in any walk of life," he said. "There might be some that cross the line. But, for the most part, they respect each other's careers. That's my NFL experience.

"You can't fine players for football actions that are entirely impossible to curtail," Schlereth added. "The NFL starts to talk about culture change, changing the culture of the game. To me, they continue to promote the violent nature of the National Football League because, let's face it, it sells. People love it. I love it. But to continue to promote that and to also say, ‘We want to clean this game up; we really care about the players,' is so hypocritical to me. We as players know what we're getting ourselves into." 

As for the NFL's $765 million concussion-related brain injuries settlement with former players last year, Schlereth shares his opinion openly.

"For the NFL to not have to release their 20 years worth of brain trauma research as a part of that settlement, to me that's bordering on criminal," he said. "They don't want the general public to know that you knew players were damaging themselves and they were telling them otherwise. My thought process is that the 20 years of research could have helped players avoid (injuries). Is there something in there that they may have found to help further the research and advance solutions? That's where most players have a problem with (the settlement).

"That's where the NFL's actions don't line up with what they say (about safety)."

Schlereth stays very busy, and he said the format of the UC Speaker Series is unusual for him, but it's an event he said he is looking forward to experiencing. 

"This event is different for me," Schlereth said. "I usually do a lot of motivational speaking, with my background and unique perspective of being a former NFL player, a commentator and I also own a food company (Mark Schlereth's Stinkin' Good Green Chili). 

"I'm excited about coming to West Virginia and meeting everybody," he said. "It's going to be fun." 

An autograph signing is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Rotunda in UC's Riggleman Hall, with a limit to one item per person.

The program, which begins at 6:30 p.m., is scheduled to last until 8:30 p.m.

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