I am REALLY beginning to hate 2016.
This year has already claimed many celebrities of whom I was a fan of since childhood. First there was David Bowie. Then Alan Rickman. Muhammad Ali. I could barely handle Prince leaving us.
Even with 2016 claiming all of the aforementioned celebrities, this morning it claimed one with a slightly less celebrity that nevertheless made me very sad.
Saunders passed away in his sleep. He was only 61 years old.
There have been stories of how good of a guy Saunders was. The teary tributes given by Michael Smith and Jemele Hill on ESPN’s His and Hers of how great of a mentor Saunders was to both made me shed a few tears. Watching Stephen A. Smith doing the same on First Take also made me a bit misty-eyed.
But what moved me the most about Saunders is how much of an impact he had on me as a sports fan.
I remember my dad, brother and me watching Saunders on NFL Live and SportsCenter when I was growing up. We would always joked that Saunders was the first black dude we’ve seen who loved hockey (he was Canadian).
I’ve later grown to love what Saunders did in place of the late Dick Schaap on The Sports Reporters. The way Saunders took on the hosting duties essentially made him an institution every Sunday morning. I’d always make sure I didn’t miss Saunders’ “parting shots” at the conclusion of each episode.
Seeing Saunders become such an institution on those aforementioned shows as well as the various college sports shows and the College Football Playoff national championship always made me proud as a black man. The dignity he carried while doing so made me even more proud.
Those who follow this blog knows how big of a fan I was of the late, great Stuart Scott. I would argue that without Saunders, there would be no Stuart Scott.
My Sunday mornings will never be the same again. It just makes me sad all the way around.
Rest in peace, John Saunders.