Sports

ESPN veteran John Saunders dies at 61

AP file photo

John Saunders began his distinguished career at ESPN in 1986.

John Saunders, a versatile and esteemed personality at ESPN for 30 years, has died, the network announced Wednesday. He was 61 years old.

According to an ESPN spokesman, the cause of death was not immediately known.

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Saunders, who joined ESPN in December 1986, worked in a variety of high-profile studio and play-by-play roles during his career. He began as a “SportsCenter” anchor and was a staple during that program’s late ’80s/early ’90s heyday.

He hosted studio programs for college football and basketball, handled play-by-play for college basketball and the WNBA, and anchored various MLB and NHL studio programs through the years. Since 2001, he has hosted the round-table program “The Sports Reporters” on Sunday mornings.

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Saunders’s death was announced on “SportsCenter” Wednesday morning by Hannah Storm, a longtime colleague.

“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades,” said ESPN president John Skipper in a statement. “His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen.”

Saunders was a founding member and served on the board of directors for The V Foundation for Cancer Research, named for his late former colleague Jim Valvano.

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“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,’’ said Skipper.

“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 is survived by his wife, Wanda, and daughters Aleah and Jenna. Obituary, B6.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.
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