Legendary NFL Reporter Chris Mortensen Dies at 72 Years Old, ESPN Announces

Sports journalism lost one of its greatest figures on Sunday as ESPN announced the death of legendary NFL reporter Chris Mortensen.

Sports journalism lost one of its greatest figures on Sunday morning. Legendary NFL reporter Chris Mortensen died at 72 years old, his family announced via ESPN.

“Mort was widely respected as an industry pioneer and universally beloved as a supportive, hard-working teammate,” ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro wrote in a statement posted on the X platform. “He covered the NFL with extraordinary skill and passion and was at the top of his field for decades. He will truly be missed by colleagues and fans, and our hearts and thoughts are with his loved ones.”

Mortensen worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983 to 1990, a stint that included coverage of the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons. He also covered the NFL for The National from 1989 to 1990. Additionally, he was a columnist for The Sporting News, a contributor to Sport magazine, and a consultant with CBS Sports’ NFL Today. 

He first appeared on ESPN in 1991 and was a key piece of the network’s NFL coverage. He was best known throughout the industry as one of the first true NFL insiders, with one of his bigger scoops being that Peyton Manning would be retiring from the NFL in 2016.

Adam Schefter, ESPN’s NFL Insider, worked alongside Mortensen for many years. In a tweet sent on Sunday afternoon, he said, “An absolutely devastating day. Mort was one of the greatest reporters in sports history, and an even better man. Sincerest condolences to his family, and all who knew and loved him. Mort was the very best. He will be forever missed and remembered.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell also issued an official statement on behalf of the league Sunday evening: “It’s a sad day for everyone involved in the NFL. I admired how hard Chris worked to become one of the most influential and revered reporters in sports. He earned our respect and that of many others with his relentless pursuit of news but also with the kindness he extended to everyone he met.

“He will be greatly missed by many of us in the league who were fortunate enough to know him well beyond the stories he broke each Sunday. We send our condolences to his family, his colleagues and the many people Chris touched throughout his well-lived life.”

Mortensen was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer in 2016. That year, he received the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick McCann Award and was honored during the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s enshrinement ceremony that August.

In September 2023, Mortensen announced that he was stepping away from ESPN.

“Excited about another season but it’s time to reveal after my 33rd NFL draft in April, I made a decision to step away from ESPN and focus on my health, family and faith,” he said on the X platform. “The gratitude and humility is overwhelming. It’s not a classic retirement. I’ll still be here talking ball. It’s just time. God Bless you all.”

It’s unclear whether his death was related to the illness. Mortensen is survived by his wife, Micki, and son, Alex.

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