Former NFL cornerback Irv Cross, who went on to become the first Black network sports show anchor, was posthumously diagnosed with Stage 4 CTE after nearly a decade of playing in the league, the Boston University CTE Center announced Tuesday.
The two-time Pro Bowler was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1961 and played there until he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1966. He returned to Philadelphia, in 1969, where he retired. He then went on to have a successful career in broadcasting, most notably with CBS.
In 2021, at the age of 81, Cross died. Just a few years earlier, he had been diagnosed with mild cognitive dementia.
"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," BC CTE Center director and neurologist Dr. Ann McKee said in a statement Tuesday.
"Through his brain donation, Mr. Cross’ legacy will be able to help increase our understanding of CTE in living contact sport athletes and others who have experienced repetitive head trauma."
Cross was one of 345 former players diagnosed with CTE through Boston University’s research center and one of 376 studied.
FILE - CBS Analyst Irv Cross talks into a microphone during a season game circa 1985. (George Rose/Getty Images)
"It is imperative that we do more to educate our coaches to keep head trauma out of the game and educate our young athletes about the risks associated with football," Dr. McKee said. "Their lives could depend on it."
Irv Cross and his family made the decision to donate his brain to help raise awareness of the long-term consequences of repeated blows to the head.
"He was the nicest, kindest, most helpful, wonderful man I ever met," his wife, Liz Cross, told The Associated Press. "But that wasn’t who he was at the end. And that wasn’t who he was. It was the disease that did that."
Cross finished his career with 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries, eight forced fumbles and a pair of defensive touchdowns. He also averaged 27.9 yards on kickoff returns and returned punts.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.