Chris Mortensen, ESPN’s Longtime N.F.L. Insider, Dies at 72

Chris Mortensen, an award-winning sportswriter who pioneered the role of the N.F.L. insider, reporting omnivorously for various ESPN programs on trades, the draft, free-agent signings, injuries, retirements and scandals, died on Sunday in Birmingham, Ala. He was 72.

His death, at the home of his son, Alex, was announced by ESPN, which did not give a cause. In 2016, Mr. Mortensen underwent treatment for Stage 4 throat cancer. He lived in Bella Vista, Ark., in the northwest corner of the state.

Until he stepped away from the network last year, Mort, as he was known, dispensed news on programs like “SportsCenter,” “Sunday N.F.L. Countdown” and “Monday N.F.L. Countdown,” as well as on ESPN Radio.

He was not sports journalism’s first N.F.L. insider. Will McDonough probably had that distinction, writing authoritatively for The Boston Globe and appearing on N.F.L. pregame shows on CBS and NBC. Mr. Mortensen was followed by a raft of rivals including Peter King, at Sports Illustrated and then NBC; Jay Glazer, at Fox Sports; Mike Florio, at Pro Football Talk; and Adam Schefter, at the NFL Network.

In 2009, Mr. Schefter became Mr. Mortensen’s partner at ESPN in reporting league news.

“When we were interviewing Adam Schefter, his biggest promoter at ESPN was Chris Mortensen,” John Walsh, a former executive editor at ESPN, said in a phone interview on Monday. Mr. Mortensen did not see Mr. Schefter as his potential replacement or as a threat, Mr. Walsh added.

“Mort was the quintessential team player,” he said.

Mr. King recalled how he admired Mr. Mortensen’s prescient decision in the mid-1990s to visit the fledgling Manning Passing Academy, which was started by Archie Manning, the former New Orleans Saints quarterback, before his sons Peyton and Eli entered the N.F.L. The summer camp is for youths from eighth to 12th grades.

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