John Saunders (journalist)

John Peterson Saunders (February 2, 1955 – August 10, 2016) was a Canadian-American sports journalist. He worked for ESPN and ABC from 1986 until his death in 2016.

John Saunders
Saunders providing play-by-play for University of Kentucky's 2015 Blue-White scrimmage
Born(1955-02-02)February 2, 1955
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedAugust 10, 2016(2016-08-10) (aged 61)
United States of America
EducationWestern Michigan University (1974-76)
Ryerson University (1976-78)
Occupation(s)Sports journalist, television personality, commentator, announcer
Years active1977–2016
EmployerThe Walt Disney Company
NFL Primetime
Baseball Night in America
NBA Shootaround
The Sports Reporters
SpouseWanda Saunders (1987–2016)

Early life and career

Saunders attended high school in Châteauguay. Saunders was an all-star defenseman in the Montreal junior leagues, received a scholarship and played hockey at Western Michigan University from 1974 to 1976[1] with his brother, Bernie. He transferred to Ryerson University in Toronto and played for the Rams from 1976 to 1978. After the 1977–78 season, Saunders was named to the Ontario University Athletic Association All-Star team.[2]

He was the news director for CKNS Radio (Espanola, Ontario, 1978), and sports anchor at CKNY-TV (North Bay, Ontario, 1978–1979) and at ATV News (New Brunswick, 1979–1980). He also served as the main sports anchor for CITY-TV (Toronto, 1980–1982). He then moved to the United States to work as a sports anchor at WMAR-TV (Baltimore, 1982–1986).[3]

Career at ESPN and ABC Sports

Saunders joined ESPN in 1986 and was the host of ESPN's The Sports Reporters, starting with the illness and subsequent death of Dick Schaap in September 2001. He previously co-hosted NFL Primetime from 1987 to 1989. He was also the secondary studio host for the network's NHL broadcasts from 1986–87 to 1988, filling-in for lead host Tom Mees when needed. He became the lead studio host from 1992–93 until 2004 and NHL on ABC from 1992 to 1994 and again from 2000 to 2004 and hosted College Football on ABC from 1992 to 2015. He has also hosted ABC's coverage of baseball under the Baseball Night in America banner and was involved in ESPN's coverage earlier in his career. He also anchored the 1995 World Series for ABC.

Saunders' memoir, Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope, which spans his three-decade career at ESPN and ABC, was published posthumously in 2017.[4]


From 2002 to 2004, and occasionally during the 2007 season, Saunders did play-by-play for ESPN's coverage of the NBA, mostly on Sunday nights. He was the studio host of ESPN's NBA Shootaround from 2004 to 2006.

Saunders also served as a back-up play-by-play man for NBA on ABC. He called most of the Team U.S.A. games on ESPN for the 2007 FIBA Americas Championship.


In 2008, he began hosting the 7pm ET Sunday SportsCenter during the NFL season with Chris Berman and analyst Tom Jackson.[5]

Toronto Raptors

He was the television play-by-play announcer for the Toronto Raptors from 1995 to 2001, eventually being replaced by Chuck Swirsky.

Personal life

John was an advocate for juvenile diabetes research, having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as an adult in the early 1980s after his then-girlfriend dragged him to the hospital to get tested.[6] He was also a founding board member of the Jimmy V Foundation for cancer research, a charity that has raised $200 million with 100% of the proceeds funding cancer research. Saunders lived in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, with his wife and children. He was the brother of former National Hockey League player Bernie Saunders.[7]


On August 10, 2016, Saunders's wife discovered him not breathing in their New York home. Emergency responders rushed to the scene, but around 4 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was 61 years of age. Foul play was ruled out by authorities. Family members stated Saunders had not been feeling well in the days leading up to his death but no specific cause of death was publicly announced.

John U. Bacon, who coauthored Saunders's autobiography, stated in the book that the coroner found that Saunders died from a combination of an enlarged heart, complications from his diabetes, and dysautonomia, which affects the nervous system which regulates breathing, blood pressure and heart rate.[8] Saunders's brain was donated to Mount Sinai School of Medicine for research as requested. He was included in the "in memoriam" segment at the 2017 ESPY Awards.


  1. "ABC Sports - Saunders, John". Archived from the original on June 5, 2004. Retrieved January 2, 2015.
  2. "Hockey History: Player Register" (PDF). 2007-08 Western Michigan Hockey Media Guide. Western Michigan University Athletics. p. 80. Retrieved December 29, 2007.
  3. "ABC Medianet". Archived from the original on April 26, 2006. Retrieved May 30, 2006.
  4. Richard Deitsch (June 17, 2017). "In posthumous memoir, John Saunders details depression struggles, suicidal thoughts". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  5. "Co-Anchors Chris Berman and John Saunders, NFL Analyst". Archived from the original on December 2, 2009. Retrieved September 11, 2008.
  6. Saunders, John (2017). Playing hurt : my journey from despair to hope. John U. Bacon, Mitch Albom (First ed.). New York. pp. Chapter 18 pages 172–173. ISBN 978-0-306-82473-9. OCLC 995048699.
  7. "Late Canadian sportscaster John Saunders found fame on ESPN". Retrieved August 21, 2020.
  8. Deitsch, Richard. "John Saunders' memoir details depression struggles". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved August 21, 2020.

Further reading

  • Saunders, John; Bacon, John U. (2017). Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0306824739.
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