His cause of death was not immediately known.
“John wasn’t feeling well physically in recent days and, sadly, he was unresponsive earlier this morning,” the family said in a statement Wednesday. “We are sincerely touched by the outpouring of support and sadness, which is a reflection of the character and integrity that defined him. … We Appreciate all the thoughts and prayers for our cherished father, husband, brother and uncle.”
Saunders joined ESPN in 1986, handling a variety of assignments at the sports news outlet.
“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 statement. “His wide range of accomplishments across numerous sports and championship events is among the most impressive this industry has ever seen. … He was one of the most significant and influential members of the ESPN family as a colleague and mentor, and he will sorely be missed.”
Friends and colleagues of Saunders also reacted to the news Wednesday.
“I can’t believe this stunning and horrible news,” Dick Vitale, who worked with Saunders on college basketball assignments, stated.
“I cannot exaggerate how good a guy John Saunders was, nor how talented,” Boston Globe sportswriter Bob Ryan also stated via Twitter. “This is a huge personal loss for us, and a blow to ESPN’s viewers.”
In addition, the National Association of Black Journalists has released the following statement, regarding an appearance Sunders made at an NABJ conference last Friday:
“John Saunders provided inspiration and mentorship to scores of NABJers as evidenced by his participation and fellowship at the NABJ-NAHJ Convention last week. NABJ mourns Saunders following the news of his untimely passing. We extend heartfelt sympathies to Saunders’ family, friends and his ESPN colleagues.”
Saunders is survived by his wife, Wanda, and two daughters, Aleah and Jenna.