John Saunders Is Dead At 61 & The ESPN Sportscaster Leaves Behind A Lasting Legacy In These Ways
According to reports from multiple outlets and confirmed by his employer, ESPN host John Saunders passed away on August 10, at the age of 61. Saunders had been an employee of the colossus sports network for more than 30 years, the last 15 of which he spent as one of the hosts of The Sports Reporters , a round-table discussion show that first aired all the way back in 1988. So far, no information has been released about what caused his death ― just weeks ago, ESPN had announced that Saunders would be covering the World Cup of Hockey in September, making the sudden news of his passing that much more unexpected.
ESPN president John Skipper issued a statement following the news of Saunders' death, praising the late host's prolific, expansive career, and calling him one of the company's "most significant and influential" longtime employees.
The news of his death was actually broken live during an episode of the network's flagship show SportsCenter , which was being broadcast from Rio. You can watch it below, and it's a very sad scene, as his former colleague Hannah Storm had to break the news. Storm has been in this unfortunate position before, as it happens ― back in early 2015, she also announced the death of beloved ESPN anchor Stuart Scott.
As Skipper's statement noted, and as Storm mentioned in her emotional announcement, Saunders was a founder and member of the board of directors of The V Foundation for Cancer Research, a charity launched by former NCAA basketball coach Jim Valvano in the weeks before his death from bone cancer in 1993. He's also been widely praised as someone who helped mentor and advocate for young journalists within ESPN, with a particular eye towards opening doors for black sportscasters.
First Take host Stephen A. Smith also delivered an emotional on-air tribute to Saunders, calling him a "big brother" and a father figure, dubbing him "the Godfather," and a "phenomenal, phenomenal man" who helped pave the way for other black ESPN personalities.
Saunders began his ESPN career in 1986, back when it was still just a hollow shell compared to the ubiquitous, dominant force in sports broadcasting it is today, and he ended up staying with the company clear through to the end of his life. He's reportedly survived by his wife Wanda, and his two daughters, Jenna and Aleah.