I’m 38 years old and I’m a sports fanatic.
That precursor was necessary for a myriad of reasons.
For one, I was actually one of the dozens of adolescent boys that actually watched “The Sports Reporters” on Sunday mornings. I watched the late, great Dick Schapp moderate a show that in hindsight was ahead of its time. It was the “thinking man’s” show. Most of my friends HATED the show and would tell me “Man…I always cut that shit off…then I don’t cut it back on until NFL Countdown”, which was fine by me…I was learning. Through that show, I began to fall in love with sports journalism. I became fans of great writers at the time such as Mitch Albom, Mike Lupica, Bob Ryan and yes, Michael Wilbon because of that show.
Schapp would unexpectedly pass away in 2001, by that time, I was a full fledged adult, still watching the show faithfully in the mornings. At this point in my life, I had moved into an apartment and had a Sunday ritual. I would walk to the corner store, grab me the Sunday Washington Post, a 6 pack of Smirnoff Ice because I hate beer, and a Cran-Grape juice and post up in front of my TV starting with The Sports Reporters. When Schapp passed, people wondered – including myself, who would take over the mantle of this great show.
John Saunders took over as host and it was as seamless as anyone could imagine. As a young brother, I thought it was great that a black man became the host of the “intellectual” show on ESPN. That was a HUGE deal to me and it still is to this day. Every Sunday morning, Mr. Saunders was the final voice you heard on a show full of poignant voices. His demeanor in such an environment was something to hold in the highest regard. You never once thought that the show lost any of its luster, he seemed to somehow elevate the show just because of his presence. His “parting shots” at the end of every show hit on topics such as race, equality, poor behavior etc and they never came of as demeaning or “talking down” to someone, they came from a good place, his heart.
He’s the man I saw as a teen talking about hockey as an anchor and I said “Black people like hockey too?? Maybe I should watch myself”. That’s why I became a hockey fan. The proverbial jack-of-all-trades, you would see him hosting NFL Countdown, NBA Countdown, Sunday SportsCenters with Chris Berman, play-by-play college basketball, you name it…he was the guy.
The passing of Saunders and the late great Stuart Scott almost two years ago has left a huge void in the hearts of a lot of people, fans of ESPN. Its an even tougher pill for us young, black men who wanted to be just like them.