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Former NFL star, sportscasting pioneer Irv Cross diagnosed with stage 4 CTE
Concussion Legacy Foundation Media Project launches Irv Cross Fellowship in his honor
(Boston) – The family of Irv Cross is announcing today that Boston University CTE Center researchers diagnosed the former NFL cornerback and broadcasting legend with stage 4 (of 4) chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Cross died exactly two years ago today at the age of 81. His family is releasing the findings of his brain study through the Concussion Legacy Foundation (CLF), with whom Irv worked with to raise awareness of the need for brain donation in 2018, while also promoting the Flag Football Under 14 program, part of CLF’s Stop Hitting Kids in the Head Campaign.
“For the last five years of his life Irv stopped being able to do the things he loved and his problems with his balance, memory, and delusions, were very embarrassing and depressing for him,” said Liz Cross, Irv’s wife. “His life became a constant struggle, and he suspected it was from CTE. Now that we know for sure, Irv would want others to learn about the disease and the risks of playing tackle football, especially for children.”
CTE is caused in part by repeated traumatic brain injuries, which include concussions and nonconcussive impacts. Stage 4 CTE is the most severe stage of CTE and is usually associated with dementia. Cross was diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia in 2018, which he shared publicly, along with his decision to donate his brain to the UNITE Brain Bank. He is one of the 345 former NFL players now diagnosed with CTE by the Brain Bank team, out of only 376 studied.
“We are honored by Irv Cross’s decision to donate his brain to our research, as we are by all our 1,330 donors and their families,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the Boston University CTE Center and UNITE Brain Bank. “Each donation brings us closer to understanding how to prevent, diagnose, and effectively treat CTE.”
Cross was drafted in the seventh round of the 1961 NFL draft and was later selected for the Pro-Bowl twice during his career with the Philadelphia Eagles. After his NFL career, he became an analyst and commentator for CBS Sports, making him the first Black person to work as a fulltime analyst on national TV. He later became the first Black person to co-anchor a network sports program during his time on The NFL Today. In 2009, Cross achieved another milestone, as the first Black person to receive the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.
To honor Cross’ pioneering career in sports broadcasting, and dedication to our mission, the CLF Media Project is launching the Irv Cross Fellowship. The Fellowship aims to reduce the barriers that prevent young Black media members from entering the profession. The Fellowship will award $2,500 to an aspiring journalist under age 30 to help them advance their career. Award-winning sports media members J.A. Adande and A. Sherrod Blakely of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Sports Task Force will both serve on the selection committee for the award.
“Irv told me years ago that he felt very strongly sports broadcasters needed to report on concussions more accurately in their work, which is what the CLF Media Project teaches,” said Dr. Chris Nowinski, Concussion Legacy Foundation CEO. “We are honored Irv was such a vocal advocate for our cause during life, and through the Fellowship, we are proud to pay homage to his legacy for years to come.”
Qualified individuals can apply to the Irv Cross Fellowship at ConcussionFoundation.org/IrvCross.