ESPN announced Wednesday that John Saunders, for three decades one of its most visible and well-liked on-air personalities, has died at age 61.
The network did not provide a cause of death.
Saunders, who joined ESPN in 1986, handled a variety of hosting and play-by-play roles, notably succeeding Dick Schaap as host of the Sunday morning show “The Sports Reporters” in 2001.
Saunders was a founding member of the board of directors of The V Foundation for Cancer Research.
“John was an extraordinary talent and his friendly, informative style has been a warm welcome to sports fans for decades,” ESPN president John Skipper said in a story posted on the network’s website.
“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 longstanding 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.”
A native of Canada, Saunders had a particular affinity for hockey, and played the sport as a defenseman at the collegiate level. His brother, Bernie, played for the Quebec Nordiques from 1979-81.
Saunders hosted ABC’s Saturday studio coverage of college football and select editions of ESPN’s College Football Live and ESPN’s college basketball studio coverage.
In recent years, Saunders also co-hosted NFL highlight segments on Sunday night editions of “SportsCenter” during the football season. He also anchored studio coverage from the College Football Playoff National Championship and hosted the postgame trophy presentation.
Just last week, Saunders spoke at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Washington, D.C. He is survived by his wife, Wanda, and daughters Aleah and Jenna.