Mark Schlereth Endured 23 Surgeries Before Retiring From His 12-Year NFL Career

Injuries are common in the NFL. Nobody knows this more than Mark Schlereth. The offensive lineman, who played for the Denver Broncos and now-Washington Football Team, endured a shocking 23 injury-related surgeries before finally retiring. Now a contributor to NFL TV and radio shows, Schlereth doesn’t regret the torture he put his body through. Despite his aches and pains, living his dream made it all worth it.

Mark Schlereth’s NFL career

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In Schlereth’s 12-year NFL career, he won three Super Bowls (one in Washington and two in Denver). The two-time Pro-Bowler was a key component of the offensive line that blocked for John Elway. While Schlereth spent much of his playing days in pain — experiencing many injuries and broken bones — he didn’t let that stop him from fulfilling his dream.

Schlereth never had an easy path. Growing up, he struggled with dyslexia, which zapped his confidence and prevented him from reading until the seventh grade. Sports, especially football, helped him deal with his frustrations and turned him into the aggressive lineman feared by opponents.

Schlereth’s injuries and retirement

Former Bronco, Mark Schlereth, is announced as the 1997 Broncos team is honored before a 2015 game
Mark Schlereth is announced as the 1997 Broncos team is honored before a 2015 game | Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Schlereth endured a whopping 29 surgeries (20 on his knees) during his 12-year career. Anyone else would’ve hung it up after hitting double digits. But Schlereth wrote in an ESPN piece that playing healthy is easy; playing hurt is the mind game. He also said even though he was in pain, he’d still hit up the training room:

“Why? Mostly because I loved the game. But also out of a sense of obligation to my teammates who relied on me. I could never let them down. Regardless of how beat up I’d get, I’d go out and play hard for them, because I know they’d do the same for me.”

His dedication was well known. Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan said Schlereth had a “great pain threshold” and his knees were probably the worst doctors have seen. In 2001, Schlereth made the easy decision to retire. He claimed there wasn’t much of a market for a 35-year-old lineman with a body that’s beat to a pulp. 

Mark Schlereth in retirement

Since he left football, Schlereth has made a commitment to his health. Known in the NFL as a 280-pound lineman, he changed up his workouts and started eating less. According to The Sports Drop, the combination led to him losing almost 60 pounds. The weight loss likely helped soothe his lingering knee and back pain.

Another plus to shedding the pounds: Schlereth began hosting an afternoon Denver radio show, which led him to a sports analyst position at ESPN. He went on to work as a Fox NFL commentator and frequently appear on various radio shows and podcasts. He didn’t stop there.

With experience in front of the camera, Schlereth looked to pursue other avenues — namely, acting. He nabbed a recurring role on the soap opera Guiding Light as Detective Roc Hoover. Since then, he’s filmed other supporting roles for reality and documentary series.   

While Schlereth was beaten up during his NFL career, he has a trio of Super Bowl rings. He told ESPN:

“It was all worth it — every last scratch — because no matter how battered and bruised, I never lost sight of the fact that I was living out my childhood dream. And dreams are not granted or given — they come with a price. No matter what your goal, you’re bound to face adversity, and it’s during that adversity when you find out what you’re made of. I just happen to be held together by a few more nuts and bolts than most.”