ESPN legend John Saunders has died at the age of 61. The journalist joined ESPN in 1986 and worked for the network for 30 years. The cause of death is not yet known, but details have emerged about what happened.
TMZ reports that Saunders’ wife found him unresponsive and called 911. He was not breathing, emergency responders could not resuscitate him, and Saunders was pronounced dead at the scene. The publication reports that a detective was sent to Saunders home and found no evidence of foul play.
The cause of death appears to be natural causes. However, it is not known at this time.
Hannah Storm announced live on SportsCenter that the “extraordinarily talented” host had passed away. Clearly still in shock, Storm made the tearful announcement live from Rio Janeiro.
ESPN president John Skipper released a lengthy statement about John Saunders, which included the following:
“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades. 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.”
John Sanders covered college football, NHL and basketball for the ESPN network and was the host of The Sports Reporters and co-anchor of SportsCenter.
An emotional Stephen A. Smith remembers John Saunders as a father figure. Smith revealed that Saunders had health issues dating back years and survived an accident where he had a “bad fall.” While in recovery, Saunders was effective at his job at ESPN and was a mentor to younger staff members such as Molly Qerim.
Due to his shock, Smith was lost for words. He stated that John Saunders created opportunities for African American journalists on the network due to his status as a pioneer and his innovative style. In a tribute, Stephen A. Smith stated the following:
“He never asked to be a brother, or friend or anything inspirational in my life. He just demanded it simply by being the best colleague any professional could ever hope to have. My heart is too heavy right now for any additional words. But I’m sure I’m not alone. I lost someone I love dearly. As has anyone who truly knew this man!”
John Saunders was fond of hockey and a versatile reporter, ranging from play-by-play reporting to in-studio hosting. His death sent shockwaves through the sports world, with many remembering him for his talent and generosity.
While his cause of death is unknown, John Saunders revealed that he had struggled with depression in a book Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope, which is slated for release April 2017. A description of the book suggest that Saunders intended on helping others by discussing treatment methods and topics those who suffer from the mental illness shy away from tackling head on:
“John Saunders—stellar athlete and respected sportscaster—welcomes readers into the heart of his desperate struggle against depression: from insights into the illness’s root causes to the nature of modern treatments, from both a medical and cultural perspective. His story unfolds as so many of our lives do—among family, friends, and colleagues—but it also peers into places we don’t often discuss openly—psych wards and hospitals. Here is the honest story of a public figure facing his own mental illness head on, and emerging far better off for his effort.”
John Saunders is survived by his two children and wife. He is remembered as a generous and talented journalist by colleagues and viewers.
[Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images]