Mark Schlereth is a great storyteller — a big reason why he’s evolved into a successful broadcaster since retiring from the NFL in 2001. He was a studio analyst and radio host with ESPN for 16 years before moving over to FOX Sports in 2017 to call NFL games in addition to being a studio analyst. He’s also a sports radio host in Denver and involved in a couple businesses.
This second career follows the 12 years he spent as a guard in the NFL. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 10th round of the 1989 NFL Draft out of Idaho, played six years in D.C., was named to the 1991 Pro Bowl, and helped the Redskins win Super Bowl XXVI. He joined the Denver Broncos in 1995, played six more years, earned another Pro Bowl honor in 1998, and helped the Broncos win the first two Super Bowls in franchise history (XXXII and XXXIII).
Last week, in an interview with Thrive Church in Parker, Colo., Schlereth shared some of his great stories as he discussed his time in the NFL and how his faith in Christ impacted him. He said he was raised in a Christian home in Alaska, but his faith grew immensely during his time with the Redskins under Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
“Joe Gibbs would get so excited about altar calls and having our team chaplain come up and invite people to Jesus — in a team meeting! That’s Joe. Joe is an incredible man,” Schlereth said (25:40 mark in video below).
Schlereth said Gibbs would often host Bible studies and invite everyone on the team. As a rookie trying to make the team, Schlereth would attend those Bible studies thinking that if it came down to the coaches trying to decide between him and another lineman, Gibbs might be more likely to choose Schlereth because he had seen the kid at Bible studies.
But in those meetings, Schlereth saw a group of men that really loved each other, loved each others’ families, and welcomed a young rookie right in. Most of those men, Schlereth noted, were black and became spiritual mentors for him.
“It’s so interesting to watch some of the racial tensions that we have, because when you play a professional sport, you start to realize that there’s a lot more that connects us than divides us. We all want essentially the same things, and you learn just to love one another and rely on one another. So the guys to me who were my spiritual guidance guys and guys that I aspired to be like were all black men — Charles Mann and Art Monk and Monte Coleman and Darrell Green. These are brothers in Christ who really helped develop my walk and my journey,” Schlereth said (26:30 mark).
He contrasted that with his time in Denver, which didn’t have a regular team Bible study when he joined the team, so he made sure one took place at his house. He’d put flyers in everybody’s locker, 10-15 guys would show up, and Schlereth’s wife, Lisa, would cook for everyone. All the kids who came over — including Mark’s son, Daniel, a pitcher who’s spent time in the majors and was also a part of the event with Thrive Church — would watch WWE wrestling in the basement while the adults did their Bible study and watched Monday Night Football.
Then Schlereth told the story of Harry Swayne, a former teammate of his who now works for the Baltimore Ravens. Swayne, a fellow offensive lineman, would politely decline all of Schlereth’s invitations to Bible study, but noticed something different about Schlereth, tackle Tony Jones, and some other players on the team.
“The way you guys were gracious to me and kind to me even though you knew I was running the streets and doing things, that brought me to Christ,” Swayne recently told Schlereth (28:00 mark). “Convicted me enough to say, ‘You know what, I’m going to give my life to Jesus.'”
Schlereth said that after the Broncos won Super Bowl XXXIII over the Atlanta Falcons in January 1999, Swayne turned his life over to the Lord that night. There was a caravan of limos full of players heading out for a celebratory night on the town.
“‘I was so convicted that I told my limo driver to take a left, and I made him take me back to the hotel. And I gave my life to Christ,'” Schlereth recalled Swayne telling him. “Yeah, like the night of the Super Bowl, after a Super Bowl victory. And he said, ‘That’s it, I can’t live this way anymore. It was you and it was Tony Jones and it was a couple other Christian guys that loved on [me].’ … What’s the old saying? Don’t just go to church, be the church. Just be the church every day.”
Swayne never came to one of those Bible studies, but watching his teammates ended up changing his heart toward Jesus. After his playing days ended, Swayne became the chaplain for the Chicago Bears, before joining the Ravens organization in multiple roles.
A three-time Super Bowl winner, Schlereth also talked about what makes great teams — the ones with players who make sacrifices for the betterment of the team. This brings to his mind Paul writing to the Philippians.
“‘Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, of the same love, united in spirit, do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind, regard each of you as more important than yourself,'” Schlereth said in reference to Philippians 2:2-3 (23:40 mark). “You want to talk about how to be successful in a church, how to be successful in a business, how to be successful as a football player or a football team? Philippians 2:2-3, make that part of your life, make that part of your culture, live that part of your culture every single day, and watch your church thrive, watch your business thrive, watch your family thrive, watch everything in your life thrive.”
Schlereth began the interview with the hilarious story of how he came to have the nickname “Stink,” he and Daniel shared some family stories, and they both discussed why Super Bowl XXXII was much more meaningful than the other two championships Mark won.