Tributes Pour in for Beloved ESPN NFL Reporter

Chris Mortensen, an award-winning journalist who spent more than three decades covering the National Football League (NFL) for ESPN, died on Sunday morning, his family announced. He was 72.

Mortensen, who reported his retirement in September 2023, to focus on his “health, family and faith”—joined ESPN in 1991 and for the next 33 years was one of the industry’s leading voices, providing insights and analysis across the network’s platforms, from “Sunday NFL Countdown” to “SportsCenter.” One of the preeminent NFL news breakers began his reporting career in 1969 at the South Bay (California) Daily Breeze, and over a decorated run received 18 awards in journalism, per ESPN, to go along with two Pulitzer Prize nominations.

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

Chris Mortensen
Chris Mortensen is seen on February 16, 2019, in Birmingham, Alabama. Mortensen died Sunday at the age of 72, his family announced.

Kevin C. Cox/AAF/Getty Images/Getty Images

Mortensen—whose other reporting stops included the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Sporting News, among more bylines—was recognized with the prestigious Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick McCann Award in 2016. That August, the U.S. Army veteran was honored during the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s enshrinement ceremony.

The 1987 George Polk Award-winner for reporting was diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer in January 2016, per ESPN—though still managed to share the scoop on Peyton Manning’s retirement from football shortly after.

“Mort helped set the journalism standard in the early days of ESPN.” Norby Williamson, executive editor and head of studio production for ESPN, said in a statement. “His credibility, attention to detail and reporting skills catapulted our news and information to a new level,” “More importantly, he was a great teammate and human being. He personified care and respect for people which became the culture of ESPN.”

The cause of Mortensen’s death has not yet been made public. He is survived by his wife Micki and son Alex.

Whether it was recording a segment from the Super Bowl or breaking a trade at the NFL Draft, Mortensen was a fixture on TV screens for sports fans and a beloved presence within the football community. After the announcement of his death was made by ESPN shortly after 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, many of his former colleagues and friends remembered the NFL legend.

“An absolutely devastating day,” ESPN insider and longtime colleague with Mortensen, Adam Schefter, wrote on X. “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. So many did. Mort was the very best. He will be forever missed and remembered.”

Fellow ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski called “Mort” an “absolute giant of a man and journalist” on X and said one of the greatest thrills of coming to ESPN was getting to learn from Mortensen.

Jeff Passan, a Major League Baseball (MLB) reporter for the network, wrote in a separate post that Mortensen was a “shining example for everyone who does this job,” and described him as kind to all, thoughtful and principled.

NFL Media’s Rich Eisen and Daniel Jeremiah took time out of their scouting combine broadcast to honor Mortensen’s memory. A shaken Jeremiah called Mortensen his “mentor” and one of his best friends, who he was exchanging texts with as recently as Saturday.

On its main network, ESPN has also aired a tribute to one of its foremost figures.

In another of a seemingly endless amount of online remembrances, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg called Mortensen the “kindest, most generous gentlemen you could ever come across, in any field.” In their own social media posts, NBC’s Peter King called Mortensen a “giant in our business, and a terrific person,” while ESPN’s Mina Kimes said she was “lucky to have known” one of the “kindest and funniest people I’ve encountered in our industry.”

ESPN’s Jeff Darlington in an X post wrote: “Chris Mortensen is the person I strived to be like when I was young. And after the friendship we developed, he remained the type of person I want to be as I grow older.”

Sports Illustrated‘s Albert Breer wrote on X that it is “tough to put into words how much Chris Mortensen meant to our business,” and shared a warm text message “Mort” had sent him before they even knew each other very well.

Ari Meirov of the 33rd Team described feeling “gutted” at the news.

“This hurts so much,” he wrote on X. “Chris Mortensen was a titan in this industry and one of the people I looked up to while growing up watching and learning the game of football.”

The Atlanta Falcons are among the NFL franchises to mourn Mortensen’s death with online statements, with owner Arthur Blank saying in part, “I considered Chris a personal hero of mine and it is truly hard to imagine sports journalism without him.”

Manning, via his Instagram account, said he is “heartbroken” and that “we lost a true legend. Mort was the best in the business and I cherished our friendship. I trusted him with my announcement to sign with the Broncos and with the news of my retirement. I will miss him dearly and my thoughts and prayers are with Micki and his family.”