Sports fans will inevitably remember Chris Mortensen, the beloved “NFL insider” best known for breaking stories, sharing scoops, and becoming a trusted personality on the gridiron and on “Sportscenter,” among other programs and venues.

Mortensen died on Sunday after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 72.

“Mort helped set the journalism standard in the early days of ESPN,” wrote ESPN’s Norby Williamson. “His credibility, attention to detail and reporting skills catapulted our news and information to a new level. More importantly, he was a great teammate and human being. He personified care and respect for people which became the culture of ESPN.”

Tributes pouring in over the last few days have acknowledged Mortensen’s topflight writing and reporting talents, but they’ve all quickly pivoted from the professional to the personal.

John Strege is a semi-retired sportswriter and a former colleague of Mortensen back when they covered the Los Angeles Dodgers. John and Marlene Strege are longtime friends of Focus on the Family. The couple pioneered the adoption of frozen embryos. Their daughter Hannah, known as “Snowflake # 1,” won the early fatherly affection of the famed sportswriter.

Endorsing John’s book on the journey, A Snowflake Named Hannah: Ethics, Faith, and the First Adoption of a Frozen Embryo, Mortensen wrote:

“It brought me much joy when he [John] found a life mate in his lovely wife, Marlene, but nothing could be more life-affirming than the miracle that Hannah is.”

Reflecting on the passing of his beloved friend, John wrote this week:

“Best reporter I’ve ever encountered by a wide margin. Big, friendly personality. I am comforted by the fact that he became a strong Christian in the last 25 years or so.”

In recent years, Chris Mortensen seemed to enjoy talking about his faith and its centrality in his life.

“Our faith and trust is to be in the Lord and the Lord only,” Mortensen told the Sports Spectrum podcast. “It’s not in man, because man will let us down. The flesh lets us down. We all know that. That’s why the Lord sends a Savior.”

He continued:

“I always tell people, ‘You know, if you had one question in life that you should ask and then try to answer, it’s, ‘Is there a God?’ And then I would say, ‘And what does that mean? Is Jesus who He said He was? And what does that mean?’”

Comfortable with using sports terminology but seeing neither salvation nor a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as a game, Mortensen urged the curious, the troubled or the searching to “call timeout” and ask the Lord for direction and answers to life’s most compelling and critical questions.

Death has silenced the ESPN legend, and the NFL won’t see him on the sidelines anymore.  But thanks to his commitment to Jesus Christ, Chris Mortensen now enjoys and possesses the eternal designation of being a “Heavenly insider” – only any and every outsider is more than welcome to someday join him.


Image from Getty.