Former Eagles star and CBS Sports football analyst Irv Cross has been diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy following his death in February 2021.
Cross, who was 81 when he died on Feb. 28, 2021, suffered from stage 4 CTE, Boston University researchers said Tuesday.
Stage 4 is the most advanced stage of CTE, showing the kind of damage that often causes cognitive and behavioral issues in those exposed to repetitive head trauma. He struggled physically with his balance and was paranoid, his wife told The Associated Press.
“Toward the end,” Liz Cross said, “he saw things that weren’t there.”
Liz Cross' depiction of her husband's late-life cognitive decline stands in stark contrast to what his friends, family, and most football fans knew of the affable and charming individual.
“He was the nicest, kindest, most helpful, wonderful man I ever met,” Cross said. “But that wasn’t who he was at the end. And that wasn’t who he was. It was the disease that did that.”
Prior to his death, 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.
Dr. Ann McKee, a professor of neurology and pathology at Boston University, said she was not surprised by the findings. She added that while the discourse around traumatic brain injuries has improved overall, work remains to be done in educating coaches and young players.
"I still think there’s a very cavalier attitude toward CTE," McKee said. "There’s a lot of denial.”
Liz Cross said that she and her husband lived "in denial" about the role of head trauma in his cognitive difficulties, until about five years before his death. In 2018, he publicly revealed he had been diagnosed with mild dementia. Irv was in a "constant state of depression" over his decline, Liz said.
She also revealed that Irv told her he'd suffered countless concussions throughout his career, and at one point was told by doctors that he could die if he suffered another. Instead, he was given a "stronger helmet."
Despite his injuries, Irv maintained that he had no regrets about his playing career, according to his wife, yet he "didn't think kids should be playing."
After a nine-year career with the Eagles and Rams, Cross, a two-time Pro Bowl defensive back, transitioned into broadcasting, where he was a trailblazer as the first Black, full-time sports analyst on national television. He often worked alongside Phyllis George and fellow Northwestern alum Brent Musberger.
In 2009, Cross became the first Black recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award for longtime exceptional contributions to broadcasting.