By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – For now, former Detroit Lions fullback Cory Schlesinger has no regrets about the 12 seasons he spent barreling into defenders so violently that he broke an estimated 200 face masks in his career. The future, however, is uncertain, and where that is concerned, so is Schlesinger.
Now a teacher at Allen Park High School, Schlesinger said in a recent SiriusXM NFL Radio interview that he sometimes has minor memory issues, that he has to work a little harder to remember the names of students. While some might say that may be a normal part of aging, Schlesinger suspects that football played a role.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Schlesinger reminisced about how he played the game and how much differently hits to the head were handled than they are now. Asked how many concussions he suffered in his career, Schlesinger could not even give an estimate.
“I don’t know,” Schlesinger said. “Every training camp was a headache, so there was numerous. I really couldn’t even tell you. Whenever you get a headache, that’s considered a concussion, and you’re doing damage to your brain, and I’m sure every single player would say yeah, during training camp, during games, they all have headaches. That was just something you just dealt with and you thought was part of the game. You just played on.
“I was never knocked out, but there’s been dings a few times where the white lines on the field would turn green and you’d get cross-eyed a few times, but kind of shook it off and played,” Schlesinger continued. “You laughed about it. Kind of silly, but it was like, ‘Man, I got hit pretty hard,’ and then you just kind of moved on, not really knowing. I guess the education … really wasn’t there yet.”
So far, minor memory problems appear to be the extent of any football-related head trauma for the fullback. Schlesinger said he has not been bothered by headaches, at least not the severe kind that have plagued some other former players. He cannot rule out, of course, that headaches or other ailments will afflict him in the future.
“Hopefully nothing more will come of it. Hopefully nothing more severe will come of it, but I can’t really tell you,” Schlesinger said. “So far, I’ve been pretty lucky.”
The fullback has compared notes with some other former players, and amid the individuals in need of hip replacements, knee replacements and other repair, Schlesinger said there are some who also see memory problems cropping up.
“There’s a few guys that we do a few things with that they also mention the same type of symptoms out there,” Schlesinger said. “There’s more players that are probably worse and players also that don’t have any symptoms at all, so I guess we kind of compare notes, just how we played the game and hopefully we’re doing all right.”
Most people have no concept of how it feels to do what Schlesinger did on a regular basis, colliding so forcefully with other players that his face mask would break. The equipment manager, he joked, was like his own little pit crew on the sideline. For Schlesinger, the face mask-destroying clashes were a good sign; they meant he was doing his job, moving defenders aside and making room for the running back.
Sometimes the most jarring hits, however, were not the most dramatic ones.
“Sometimes it’s funny because the little hits sometimes will do it more,” Schlesinger said. “You think, ‘Oh, this is a huge hit.’ You’d think that something’d be a little smashed, but it’s not. Sometimes it’s just the glances that really do some damage.”
Even with growing awareness of the potential effects of concussions, Schlesinger said he would still play the game – and probably just the same way – if he had to do it all over again. Most former players, he said, would respond similarly.
As far as weighing the fun and money of professional football with the toll it takes on a player’s body, however, Schlesinger decided to refrain from making a declaration – at least for now.
“Ask me in 10 years and see what happened,” Schlesinger said with a laugh. “We’ll find out. I guess we don’t really know right now. It was a fun time, it was very enjoyable, met some great players and got to do a lot of fun things, but then again, we’ll find out. We’ll see what the future has for us.”