Irv Cross, a former NFL star and broadcasting pioneer who died two years ago at the age of 81, had stage 4 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the Boston University CTE Center said Tuesday.
“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,” said Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University’s CTE Center, in a statement. “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.”
Former players studied by the BU CTE Center have chosen to donate their brains to the center or have had their brains donated by their families after their deaths.
CTE, a neurodegenerative brain disease, can be found in individuals who have been exposed to repeated head trauma. Studies have found that repetitive hits to the head – even without concussion – can result in CTE.
The disease, which can only be formally diagnosed with an autopsy, is pathologically marked by a buildup of tau protein in the brain that can disable neuropathways and lead to a variety of symptoms including memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, aggression, depression, anxiety, impulse control issues and sometimes suicidal behavior.
Cross’s widow described the struggle he faced.
“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,” Liz Cross said in a statement. “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.”
Cross, a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who was drafted in 1961, played nine seasons in the NFL – six for the Philadelphia Eagles and three for the Los Angeles Rams.
He would return to Philadelphia in 1969, becoming a player and coach. After retiring in 1970, he became an Eagles assistant coach.
In his nine seasons, Cross had 22 interceptions, 14 fumble recoveries and two defensive touchdowns.
After his NFL career, Cross became the first African American sports analyst on national television when he worked for CBS Sports as an NFL analyst and commentator from 1971 to 1994.
He anchored the Emmy-winning show “The NFL Today,” from its inception in 1975 through 1989. Cross also covered other sports, including the NBA, track and field, and gymnastics.
In 2009, Cross was the recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. The award, which is given annually, recognizes “long-time exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football.”