NFL Sportscaster and Former Player Irv Cross Had Stage 4 CTE, New Findings Show

Irv Cross joins a list of 345 former NFL players who have been diagnosed with CTE by Boston University researchers

Irv Cross
Irv Cross. Photo: George Rose/Getty

Irv Cross is the latest football player to be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

The former professional football cornerback and celebrated pioneer sportscaster had been diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia before his death at age 81 in March 2021, causing him to express an early interest in donating his brain to Boston University for research.

Two years later, Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University's CTE Center, said in a statement on Tuesday that the decorated athlete's autopsy showed Cross had the most severe stage of the rare and progressive degenerative brain condition.

"Mr. Cross was diagnosed during life with mild cognitive impairment and was found at autopsy to have stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the most severe type of the disease," McKee said in the statement shared to the center's social media pages. "He is one of the 345 former NFL players diagnosed with CTE by the BU CTE Center and UNITE brain bank team out of 376 former NFL players studied."

CTE can only be diagnosed after death. It is caused by repeated concussions and traumatic brain injuries, according to the Mayo Clinic. It brings symptoms like difficulty thinking, depression, impulsive behavior, short-term memory loss, and emotional instability.

Irv Cross
George Gojkovich/Getty

His wife Liz Cross told CNN he showed many of these symptoms before his death.

"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," she shared with the outlet. "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."

Being that he played football for 17 years and had a longstanding NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles, his diagnosis was not surprising to McKee.

"I do think there's more education about the risks of football and I do think there's more awareness of concussion management but I still think we're way, way behind where we should be," Dr. McKee shared with the Associated Press.

"We need to educate young athletes that this is a risk that they are undertaking. We need to educate coaches to keep head trauma out of the game. We need to do more managing of athletes by monitoring them better. I still think there's a very cavalier attitude toward CTE. There's a lot of denial," she added.

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Following his NFL playing career, Cross went on to serve as a game analyst for CBS Sports and teamed up with fellow sportscasters Brent Musburger, Phyllis George, and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder for The NFL Today — the first-ever NFL pregame show, on which Cross was the first Black network sports show anchor — in the 1970s. He remained with CBS until 1994.

Later in his career, Cross was Idaho State University's athletic director (from 1996 to 1998) and director of athletics at Malcaster College (from 1999 to 2005). He also became the first Black person to receive the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2009.

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