This past Sunday, Irv Cross died in a Minnesota hospice at the age of 81. Cross had been admitted to hospice due to ischemic cardiomyopathy, a heart condition, and dementia, which he believed to have obtained through years of concussions during his football career.
Cross’ NFL career first took off when he played as a Pro Bowl defensive back for nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams. However, his football career started long before that. Cross was a talented athlete and even earned a place in his high school’s hall of fame. He then went on to play wide receiver and defensive back for Northwestern University. Here, Cross was deemed the university’s male athlete of the year as a senior. He was picked by the Eagles in 1961, and so his NFL career took off.
According to The New York Times, running back and Hall of Fame member Jim Brown states, “No one in the league tackles harder than Cross.”
After playing his nine seasons between both teams, Cross served one year as a coach for the Eagles. He then made history by becoming the first Black network TV sports analysts for CBS’s pregame show “The NFL Today.” Cross worked alongside commentators like Brent Musburger and Phyllis George to discuss the games to be played that day and half-time scores. This was monumental in that no Black sports analyst had ever received a job of this status.
Cross recalled the amount of pressure he felt in this job title when he explained, “I was keenly aware that if I failed it might be a long time before another Black person got a similar opportunity.”
Cross was well-received across the nation, alongside George, as she was also making history in being one of the first female sportscasters. Cross’s work with CBS allowed for more change to occur in the future when more Black commentators were hired in similar positions that Cross had held. He worked at CBS for a total of 23 years before leaving and becoming the athletic director at Idaho State University, and later on, Macalester College.
After his death, it had been planned that Cross would donate his brain to the Boston University Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center for research to be conducted on the damages done through concussions.
Cross had described, “I just tried to keep my head out of the way while making tackles, but that’s just the way it was. Most of the time, they gave you some smelling salts and you went back in. We didn’t know.”