Mortensen loves competitive nature of sports journalism


John Steele Cooper

Junior reporter Grayson Spurlock interviews sports journalist Chris Mortensen during a visit he made to campus in November.

Former NFL Insider, and ESPN Analyst, Chris Mortensen grew up loving the game of football and he later found a passion in life that has carried him on to become one of the most successful story writers in NFL history.

Mortensen was born in Torrance, California. He first made his appearance at the Daily Breeze Newspaper in journalism in 1978, then would be at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution covering investigative reports and covering the Atlanta Braves. His time there would only last two years.

“I had really found a passion for writing stories and had an interest in sports journalism,” Mortensen said.

Mortensen says when he grew up he had an influencer named Mr. Guy and Guy always told Chris that if he wanted to have a successful career in whatever he picked, he had to have a passion for it. 

“Passion can carry you a lot of places because no matter what you choose, you’re going to get discouraged, and the things that carry you to lose discouragements will help you shed light on other possible careers,” Mortensen said. 

Mortensen finally got his shot after working in the industry for more than 10 years. ESPN hired Mortensen in 1991. He began his job as an analyst for ESPN on NFL Gameday and Outside the Lines and was also an analyst for the NFL DRAFT. 

“It was definitely a big step for me,” he said, “but I was ready to take on the challenge.” 

Backtracking to 1987, Mortensen had the chance to cover one of the most interesting stories in his career. A sports agent had signed two illegal players to a contract, Norm Walters and Loyd Gloom; they happened to be connected to the mafia and were also a part of the music business. 

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me,” he said. “It actually ended up in federal court with a lot of players, some of whom are in the pro football hall of fame today.”

Growing up, Mortensen was very competitive in high school sports like football, baseball and basketball. 

“I just knew [sports] had to be a part of my life because of the competitiveness,” Mortensen said. 

Mortensen was influenced by his brother John, who came home one day with a first place trophy for California sports newspaper in high school. 

“I loved the competitive nature of other newspaper stations fighting to be the first ones to come out with the story, which is why I fell in love with covering sports in the newspaper,” he said. 

When Mortensen started growing his fame in the journalism industry, he began to interview the big athlete names. 

“Brett Favre was lots of fun because you never knew what he was going to say,” he admits. 

With the Dodgers in his backyard of southern California, Mortensen had the chance to interview people like Sandy Koufax and longtime Dodgers commentator Vin Scully. 

“Sitting there in an interview with Sandy and Vin, I had to learn how not to sit there in awe,” he said. “I was just blessed to be able to interview so many great people and then to have the chance to just interview them one-on-one. It’s just more personal to me when they have been some of my greatest influencers growing up.”

When he worked for the NFL and ESPN, he often spent most of his time each week preparing for the upcoming games. 

“When you are on the job and in-season, you are literally working 16-hour days,” said Mortensen, who believed that having every little note was important and key to having a successful week at the studio. 

Over time Mortensen would become very successful and at the end of his career, he would gain 18 prestige awards for journalism. He credits his success to buildings relationships with others.

“It’s not just talking to people,” he said. “It’s about building common relationships with others and you also have to put yourself in their shoes, see things from their perspective, and by then, you will have a very interesting conversation.”