Chris Mortensen may not be in Chicago reporting on the NFL Draft for ESPN this year.
But he’s definitely paying attention.
The 64-year-old South Bay native continues receiving treatment in Houston for Stage IV throat cancer. You may have spotted (in the video above) his emotional appearance in a Gatorade commercial that just launched, talking about Peyton Manning, who broke the news to Mortensen about his NFL retirement.
Colleagues and media journalists have been tweeting out messages about him over the last 48 hours:
Jared Goff with a live TV shoutout to @mortreport
— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) April 29, 2016
“We can’t wait for him to get back” – @AdamSchefter
ESPN colleagues w/a heartfelt tribute to Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) as Draft begins
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) April 28, 2016
— James Andrew Miller (@JimMiller) April 28, 2016
Missing @mortreport at draft but so pumped to see him in that Gatorade spot. Get well buddy we miss you
— trey wingo (@wingoz) April 28, 2016
Respect to ESPN’s NFL’s producers for spending some time here on Chris Mortensen. In-house, really liked by staffers.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) April 28, 2016
As Mortensen watches more of the NFL draft this weekend, he took a few moments to email responses to questions we asked him about — checking on his progress, what is getting him through it all.
Here’s how it goes:
Q: You’ve had several colleagues at ESPN go through various forms of cancer and recovery. Can you take anything from what they went through as inspiration to how you’re moving forward?
A: Well, “moving forward” is the catch-phrase there. Unfortunately, so many colleagues have had to endure this awful disease and I think that’s a snapshot of the country and world.
Stuart Scott … gosh I don’t know if anybody was grittier in their fight. Stu’s death made me very sad. All of us. He was such a pioneering talent, global in a sense. He was a friend to many. His drive through that ordeal was unmatched. Stu was so kind to my wife Micki and our son Alex, especially through Alex’s football playing days (as a quarterback at the University of Arkansas). Stu was always disappointed Alex didn’t pick North Carolina, his alma mater. Disappointed in a friendly, even humorous, way.
Shelley Smith … Robin Roberts …
When this happens, it taps very much into one’s soul. I have found myself praying everyday for someone who has been stricken or be taken. And, of course, Jimmy Valvano. The V Foundation is one of the great promises kept. I know. The V Foundation was very supportive in my seeking treatment at MD Anderson in Houston. I’m leaving a lot of colleagues unnamed. So many have shared their stories and it is very humbling and inspirational.
But, I’ll also say this: Each case of cancer is very personal and unique. Very personal.
Chris Mortensen during Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft from Radio City Music Hall in New York. (Photo by Rich Arden / ESPN Images)
Q: Your involvement in the NFL draft coverage for the last 25 years on ESPN has been magnified over the years as interest has ramped up and people seem to demand more and more information. You seem to be still engaged in social media outlets even if your voice isn’t there. Is there any way you can still impart information to your colleagues as you watch and network with your sources?
A: I have been able to interact with many in the NFL and with my colleagues. I have become a serial texter, which isn’t a good thing. A conversation still beats a text for a lot of reasons. I really haven’t been that engaged on social media. I may get on Twitter two or three times a week by someone’s request to re-tweet something or just to check NFL-related content.
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) March 7, 2016
Q: You had more than 7 million retweets of your announcement on Twitter that you filed a story to ESPN breaking the news of Peyton Manning’s retirement decision in early March. Many thought the fact you reported it was as big a news item as Manning’s decision. How did that play out and what was your reaction to it?
A: It’s actually awkward. The news was Peyton Manning’s retirement, especially when there was speculation that he could seek extending it with another team. That’s just not something that ever really appealed to Manning. Even though he may have been an admirer of Brett Favre, I don’t think he wanted to emulate Favre’s last dance with three teams. It was painful enough for him to leave Indianapolis.
So, back to your question … it’s very heartwarming and thoughtful for people to be so generous with their response. You do get to experience great depths of humility in these circumstances.
Q: You’ve got a choice now of taking in the NFL draft on ESPN or the NFL Network. Where and how do you plan to watch it play out this year?
A: I watch the NFL draft on ESPN. That’s a tradition. I really did wake up at 4:45 am on the Pacific Coast in our Hermosa Beach house to watch the NFL Draft on ESPN with Chris Berman and Mel Kiper Jr., et al, even when I covered the Dodgers for The Daily Breeze and the draft began at 8 a.m. ET.
I grew up a huge Los Angeles Rams fan – my Uncle Jimmy took me frequently to games at the Coliseum, even walking there a relatively short distance from my Grandmother’s house. It did strike me that the Rams had the first pick.
When Suzy Kolber and Jared Goff – whom I got a little uainted with at the Manning Passing Academy last July – gave me a shoutout, it was cool because it was the Rams. The L.A. Rams.
As far as the NFL Network goes, I pay attention and have good friends there. I always want to hear what Daniel Jeremiah has to say. He’s one guy who was highly regarded as a scout with the Ravens, Browns and Eagles; gosh, he had an opportunities to become the player personnel director with two teams this year but chose to stay put. We’re also close friends, extended through our families.
Q: What else is on your mind that you’d like people to know about anything right now?
A: Cancer is personal. It not only affects the patient, it extends very personally to the family and loved ones. That’s very true in my situation, too. They become caregivers and that’s a very draining responsibility. They need support and prayers as much as me.
When I’m locked down onto a table with a mask for daily radiation, I have the techs at MD Anderson pipe in Christian music. It brings me a sense of peace.
On that note, there is something special about experiencing the humility that comes with being a cancer patient. You realize pretty quickly that it’s non-discriminatory. Doesn’t seem matter if you’re middle-aged, old, young, poor, rich, black, white, Hispanic, Islamic, Asian…it is indiscriminate. There’s a way-too-large community of cancer patients, inspired by survivors but equally inspired by those who fought the good fight but eventually succumbed.
There is one myth, in my opinion, I would share. The mantra of “kick cancer’s ass” may be well-intended but it’s misplaced. Based on what I have experienced and having seen and heard others, you don’t kick cancer’s butt. It kicks your rear end. You just take the punches, get back up and let it hit you again and again.
I have watched Ed Werder endure agonizing cancer and other serious diseases that have afflicted with his daughter Christie and ultimately with his son-in-law Trey, who passed away a couple months ago. Nobody fought harder or wanted to live more than Trey. He was 31 years old. Trey’s experience was torturous and I found myself waking almost every night in the middle of my sleep and praying for him, Christie and Ed and Jill Werder. I believe their fight and love and sacrifice embodies the cancer experience.
You pray you’re standing in the end. But it’s day-to-day. One day at a time.
= An update on Mortensen we posted on Wednesday is in the weekly media notes linked here.