John Clayton, Beloved NFL Reporter for ESPN, Dead at 67 Following Brief Illness

The veteran sports broadcaster's family confirmed his death to ESPN on Friday

ESPN reporter John Clayton during the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty

John Clayton, who spent more than 20 years covering the NFL for ESPN, has died following a brief illness. He was 67.

Clayton, nicknamed "The Professor," died Friday afternoon in Washington state, his family confirmed to ESPN. Seattle Sports, where Clayton hosted The John Clayton Show on Saturday mornings, and the Seattle Seahawks later confirmed the reports in separate statements honoring the late broadcaster.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen said in a tweet that Clayton passed away "peacefully" at a Seattle area hospital with his wife Pat and sister Amy "at his side."

"We loved John," Mortensen, 70, wrote. "We are mourning his loss."

Bonneville Seattle Senior Vice President and Market Manager Cathy Cangiano remembered Clayton as "a legend" in the sports broadcasting industry and "a true Hall of Famer" that was "a consistent advocate for the game of football."

"John was a treasured member of our team," said Cangiano, later adding: "His connections, friendships, and relationships throughout the sports world were simply unmatched."

"His love of football was only surpassed by his love, loyalty, and dedication to his wife Pat. John will be greatly missed," she continued. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Pat and his family and friends."

John Clayton of ESPN television speaks during a report before an NFL football game between the Dallas Cowboys against the Detroit Lions Sunday, October 2, 2011 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Lions the game, 34-30.
James D Smith/AP

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lauded Clayton for helping "bring fans closer to the game they loved" in a statement released Saturday.

"For five decades, he covered the league with endless energy and professionalism," said Goodell, 63. "He earned my tremendous respect and admiration as a journalist, but more importantly as a wonderful person, particularly as it relates to the love, care, and devotion to his wife Pat. We will miss John and send our deepest condolences to Pat and his sister Amy."

Clayton kicked off his career as a teenager when he began covering the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, shortly before attending Duquesne University, according to ESPN. During his senior year, the Braddock, Penn., native was hired by The Pittsburgh Press.

For 23 years, Clayton covered the Steelers and the Seahawks for both the Press and The Tacoma Tribune, according to the Seahawks and Seattle Sports. In 1995, he was hired by ESPN as an NFL insider, where he covered the league for over two decades.

During his time with ESPN, Clayton starred in one of the most memorable SportsCenter commercials of all time in which he transforms from polished NFL insider to obsessed Slayer fan just seconds after appearing on the network.

10 days ago, Clayton was on the air at Seattle Sports 710 AM to break down the massive Russell Wilson trade to the Denver Broncos. In his final tweet, posted March 10, Clayton shared an article of his assessing what comes next for the Seahawks as the team looks to rebuild.

After learning of Clayton's passing, Wilson, 33, mourned the journalist's death on Twitter. "We will all miss your words and brilliance @JohnClaytonNFL #RIPJohnClayton," the quarterback wrote.

Many other past and present NFL figures also paid tribute to Clayton in wake of his death. Former New England Patriots star Julian Edelman was among many Clayton fans to share his iconic SportsCenter commercial while remembering the late broadcaster.

"Every kid grew up listening to John Clayton. #RIP," wrote Edelman, 35, alongside the clip.

Indianapolis Colts punter-turned-media personality Pat McAfee, who also hails from the Pittsburgh area, remembered Clayton as "a Pittsburgh football guy" and "an absolute legend" in his Twitter tribute alongside a GIF of Clayton from his SportsCenter ad.

"He was always insanely nice to me.. even when I was young and not good at my job," wrote McAfee, 34. "A genuine dude… The football world will miss him mightily. Rest easy."

The Steelers also offered their condolences in a statement shared Friday evening on Twitter. "We are very saddened to learn of the passing of John Clayton," the team said, later adding that their "thoughts are with his wife, Pat, during this difficult time."

Many of Clayton's former colleagues fondly remembered the veteran journalist with their own personal tributes on social media. ESPN NFL insider Adam Schefter described the longtime analyst as "a pioneer, a caretaker, a Hall of Famer and a slayer, in every sense" alongside the beloved SportsCenter ad.

"John Clayton will be remembered in so many ways," wrote Schefter, 55, "from how he looked after his wife Pat, to the mark he made in reporting, to the standard he set. He dedicated his life to his wife and to football."

In a Twitter thread, ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham said Clayton "took his work seriously ... but not himself."

San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore is interviewed by John Clayton of ESPN after 24-14 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in NFL Network Thursday Night Football game at Qwest Field in Seattle, Wash. on December 14, 2006.
Kirby Lee/Getty

"He was one of those colleagues who was not only always eager to help you, but went above and beyond to help," Wickersham wrote on Twitter, later adding in his thread that Clayton "was an incredible husband and proud native of Pittsburgh, with a knowledge of funk that rivaled his salary cap mastery."

In another tweet, Wickersham said his former coworker "loved football and loved to share what he learned about it, and how it worked."

The writer concluded, "Most of all, he had that John Clayton voice—a weird, geeky, nasally TV voice that was legendary because so many of us grew up hearing it on TV, tuned into SportsCenter for it, and for the lucky ones, later came to know it as the voice of a sweet friend."

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