Award-winning ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen dies at 72

Esteemed journalist Chris Mortensen, celebrated for his illustrious career spanning over three decades reporting on the National Football League (NFL) for ESPN, passed away on Sunday morning at the age of 72, according to an announcement by his family.

Mortensen’s association with ESPN commenced in 1991, where he quickly became a prominent figure on the network’s NFL shows and “SportsCenter.” Widely recognized for his role as a regular news breaker, Mortensen made headlines in 2016 when he reported on quarterback Peyton Manning’s retirement from the NFL.

This revelation further solidified Mortensen’s reputation as a reliable and influential source in the world of sports journalism. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to sports journalism, Mortensen was honored with the prestigious Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick McCann Award in 2016.

This acknowledgment was coupled with a tribute during the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s enshrinement ceremony in August of the same year, underscoring his impact on the field. Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman of ESPN, expressed deep sorrow at Mortensen’s passing, highlighting his role as an industry pioneer and universally beloved teammate.

Pitaro emphasized Mortensen’s extraordinary skill, passion, and top-tier reporting that positioned him at the pinnacle of sports journalism for decades. Mortensen’s departure last year from ESPN was attributed to his desire to prioritize health, family, and faith, following a diagnosis of Stage 4 throat cancer in January 2016.

Adam Schefter, a longtime colleague of Mortensen’s on ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” took to social media to share his grief. Describing Mortensen as one of the greatest reporters in sports history and an even better man, Schefter extended his sincerest condolences to Mortensen’s family and all those who knew and loved him. Mortensen’s legacy in sports journalism extends beyond his time at ESPN.

Before joining the network, he wrote for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1983 to 1990, covering the Atlanta Falcons, the Braves, and the NFL. His exceptional reporting during this period earned him the George Polk Award in 1987.

Prior to ESPN, Mortensen was among the first writers hired by editor Frank Deford at The National, a sports daily, where he worked from 1989 to 1990. His diverse experience also included serving as a columnist for The Sporting News, a contributor to Sports magazine, and a consultant with CBS Sports’ “NFL Today” in 1990.

Norby Williamson, Executive Editor, and Head of Studio Production for ESPN, praised Mortensen’s contribution, noting how he helped set the journalism standard in ESPN’s early days. Mortensen’s credibility, attention to detail, and reporting skills elevated ESPN’s news and information to new heights.

Williamson also emphasized Mortensen’s character as a great teammate and human being, whose care and respect for people became an integral part of ESPN’s culture. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell expressed sadness at Mortensen’s passing, calling it a “sad day for everyone in the NFL.”

Goodell admired Mortensen’s hard work and relentless pursuit of news, acknowledging the kindness he extended to everyone he met. Peyton Manning, one of the athletes Mortensen covered extensively, shared his grief on Instagram. Manning described Mortensen as a true legend and the best in the business.

Manning reminisced about trusting Mortensen with significant announcements, such as his decision to sign with the Broncos and his retirement from the NFL. Before his time at ESPN, Mortensen began his journalism career at the South Bay Daily Breeze in 1969. Over the course of his career, he received numerous awards, winning the National Headliner Award for investigative reporting in all categories in 1978. Additionally, he was nominated for two Pulitzer Prizes.

Mortensen also authored the book “Playing for Keeps: How One Man Stopped the Mob from Sinking its Hooks into Pro Football.” His impact on the NFL community was profound, evident in the outpouring of condolences from figures like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who recognized Mortensen’s brilliance and passion for the game.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in a heartfelt statement, expressed gratitude for having known Mortensen and considered him a personal hero. Blank acknowledged Mortensen’s professionalism, personal grace, and his ability to face life’s obstacles with grit and determination.

Chris Mortensen, a native of Torrance, California, born on November 7, 1951, is survived by his wife, Micki, and son, Alex. His passing marks a significant loss in sports journalism, leaving an indelible legacy of excellence, passion, and integrity. As colleagues, friends, and fans mourn his departure, they celebrate the life and contributions of a true icon in the field of sports reporting.