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Chris Mortensen, ESPN NFL reporter, dead at 72

Mortensen chose to step away from his longstanding role with ESPN following the 2023 NFL Draft, citing the need to prioritize his health and family.



ESPN announced the passing of Chris Mortensen, the esteemed NFL reporter, on Sunday morning. He was 72 years old.

“Mort was widely respected as an industry pioneer and universally beloved as a supportive, hard-working teammate,” stated ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro.

“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 chose to step away from his longstanding role with ESPN following the 2023 NFL Draft, citing the need to prioritize his health and family.

“In September 2023, I tweeted that after my 33rd NFL draft in April, I made the decision to step away from ESPN and prioritize my health, family, and faith,” Mortensen revealed.

On January 15, 2016, he disclosed via an ESPN statement that he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer, which necessitated a leave of absence.

Recognized as ESPN’s original NFL insider, Mortensen dedicated nearly his entire journalistic career to the network, commencing in 1991. He contributed to “NFL GameDay,” which evolved into today’s “Sunday NFL Countdown,” and appeared on “Outside The Lines,” in addition to serving as an analyst for the NFL Draft. Mortensen’s journalistic journey commenced at the Daily Breeze in Torrance, California, his hometown.

He later transitioned to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, covering various sports including the MLB’s Atlanta Braves (1983-85) and the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons (1985-86). Subsequently, he expanded his coverage to encompass the NFL entirely, starting in 1987, earning recognition with the George Polk Award for his contributions. Afterward, Mortensen joined The National for two years before joining ESPN.

The experienced journalist gained notoriety for breaking the “Deflategate” controversy involving the New England Patriots. Initially, he reported that 11 of the 12 footballs used during the team’s AFC Championship matchup in 2015 against the Indianapolis Colts were underinflated, violating NFL regulations.

However, the subsequent Wells Report found that only one of the 22 readings made during the investigation supported this claim. Despite the debunking of his report, ESPN did not issue a retraction or clarification. Although Mortensen eventually deleted his post on Twitter, he maintained his stance on the report.

The news of Mortensen’s passing deeply saddened many in the NFL community, including his ESPN colleague, Mike Greenberg. “Chris Mortensen epitomized kindness and generosity, qualities that transcended his profession,” Greenberg expressed on Twitter.

“His unwavering professionalism and decency earned him widespread respect, while his infectious enthusiasm and warm demeanor endeared him to all. His legacy in the industry will endure, and his impact on those fortunate enough to know him will be everlasting. Rest peacefully, Mort. Your memory will be cherished eternally.”

Another ESPN colleague, Mike Tannenbaum, also extended his heartfelt condolences.

“I’m profoundly saddened by the news of Chris Mortensen’s passing,” he shared on X. “He was not only a giant and trailblazer in our field but also one of the most compassionate and supportive individuals to me. As a mentor to many of us at ESPN, his impact was immeasurable. While he will be greatly missed, his legacy of kindness and generosity will endure. Rest peacefully, my friend.”