John Saunders, one of the familiar on-air faces of ESPN for nearly 30 years, has died. He was 61.
Saunders hosted studio and play-by-play programming. He covered college football, basketball and the NHL for the network, in addition to anchoring SportsCenter. He was also host of The Sports Reporters.
Born in Canada, Saunders was an all-star defenseman in the junior hockey leagues of Montreal. He played at Western Michigan and Ryerson Polytechnical in Toronto before becoming one of the most prominent broadcasters of his time.
Saunders was a founding member of The V Foundation for Cancer Research and served on the board of directors.
“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades,” said John Skipper, president of ESPN and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, in a statement. “His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. More importantly, John was a beloved and devoted family man who cared deeply about people and causes, as evidenced by his long-standing efforts as a passionate board member for The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
“He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family, as a colleague and mentor, and he will be sorely missed. Our thoughts are with his loved ones at this extremely difficult time.”
Saunders joined ESPN in December 1986 to anchor SportsCenter. But he became a voice on college basketball and the WNBA and hosted ESPN’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs from 1993 to 2004. He also worked on coverage of the World Series and Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
“John Saunders represented everything that was good in a human being. He was all about family and helping people,” said Dick Vitale, a longtime colleague of Saunders. “He was as good as it gets and he had deep loyalty and love for others. His work with The V Foundation was so special — he loved Jimmy V and poured his heart and soul into the cause.
“He was always willing to share and give, and he played a vital role in the success of helping so many. I can’t believe this stunning and horrible news. He will be forever in our thoughts.”
Other on-air colleagues of Saunders at ESPN took to social media to express their sorrow.
The news of John Saunders’ death could not be more crushing. We all loved him dearly. We grieve. We will miss him. Can’t replace the man.
— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 10, 2016
He and I were just together last Friday at NABJ. He was such a champion for myself and SO many others. Devastated isn’t even the word.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) August 10, 2016
Western Michigan, one of the schools where Saunders played in the 1970s, remembered him too.
— WMU Hockey (@WMUHockey) August 10, 2016
Saunders’ survivors include his wife, Wanda, and daughters Aleah and Jenna.