John Clayton, a long-time NFL reporter and radio presenter, has passed away at the age of 67.
John Clayton died Friday in Washington following a short illness, according to his family. His list of connections in the NFL was equaled only by his attention to detail and passion to his trade.
He was 67 years old at the time.
In a five-decade career that includes almost 20 years with ESPN, Clayton, dubbed “The Professor,” was one of the country’s greatest NFL insiders. Clayton was zealous in his search of news and knowledge, as ESPN’s Chris Mortensen put it “Anyone who paid attention went away a bit wiser.”
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“Long before he became an ESPN legend, John Clayton may have been the best news-breaking team beat reporter of his generation, the type who could sit on a story for months before breaking it before anyone else knew what was going on,” according to Mike Sando of The Athletic, Clayton’s longtime friend. “He was that talented. On a personal level, when I took over as the Seahawks beat writer at the Tacoma News Tribune many years ago, John was tremendously gracious to me. I owe John a great deal and shall miss him much.”
Clayton, a native of Braddock, Pennsylvania, started his career as a teenager in 1972, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers during a season that featured the team’s first Super Bowl appearance “”Perfect Reception.” He kept working until only ten days ago, when he broke down Russell Wilson’s bombshell trade to the Denver Broncos for Seattle Sports 710 AM, where he was a frequent contributor.
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“We will all miss your words and brilliance @JohnClaytonNFL #RIPJohnClayton,” Wilson tweeted Friday night, as former colleagues and friends of Clayton paid tribute to him on social media.
“The Seahawks are devastated to learn of John Clayton’s loss,” the team said in a statement. Clayton was dubbed “a Pittsburgh media legend” by the Steelers.
“The overriding sentiment I’ve heard from NFL executives and coaches is enormous respect, as well as a feeling of sad grief and astonishment,” Mortensen added.
Clayton worked for the Tacoma (Washington) News Tribune for nearly a decade before joining ESPN for more than two decades. Clayton has also worked as a sideline reporter for the Seahawks radio network for five seasons, and has written for many publications, including the Washington Post, in recent years following his lengthy tenure at ESPN. Since February of last year, he has also provided tales to KKFN-FM (104.3 FM) in Denver.
“John was not just a pioneer as an NFL insider, but he was also one of the nicest individuals you’ll ever meet,” said Seth Markman, vice president and executive producer at ESPN. “He never turned down an invitation to appear on a program — from 6 a.m. until midnight, if you asked for the Professor, he was there. I’ll also recall how much he loved and looked after his loving wife Pat throughout her fight with multiple sclerosis. John will be deeply missed by all of us.”
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Clayton was awarded the Bill Nunn Memorial Award, the profession’s highest accolade, in 2007. The Pro Football Writers of America bestow this honor on a player each year “”I’ve had a long and distinguished career in pro football reporting.”
“Clayton noted at the time, “It’s the greatest distinction any journalist covering this sport can get.”
“The PFWA is saddened by the death of John Clayton. John served as the PFWA’s 19th president (1999-2000) and received the Bill Nunn Jr. Award in 2007 “In a statement, the organization noted. “Many people in our industry considered ‘The Professor’ to be a friend. Our heartfelt sympathies go out to Pat, his family, coworkers, and many friends.”
Clayton was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Selectors for a long period.
Clayton was recruited as a jack-of-all-trades for ESPN’s NFL coverage in 1995. The creators of SportsCenter produced a weekly piece called “Clayton is pitted against NFL analyst and former quarterback Sean Salisbury in ‘Four Downs.’ It quickly became a must-see television show.
His appearances on ESPN’s “This is SportsCenter” advertisements, which are still among the greatest of the popular segments, accomplished the same. Clayton made an appearance with a coat and tie, as if he were on SportsCenter, before ripping them off to expose a Slayer T-shirt, letting down his long hair, jumping on a bed, and shouting, “”Hey, mum, I’ve finished my segment.”
Clayton started his illustrious career as a sports reporter while still in high school, covering the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was a senior at Duquesne University when he was employed by the Pittsburgh Press as a reporter.
From those early days, his passion for football never waned.
When asked how long he will follow the NFL, he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2018: “Until they plant me.” “This is my kind of thing. What I like about it is that there’s so much more information today that we didn’t have access to years ago, such as salary information and NFL Game Rewind, which allows you to review coaches footage. I can’t believe there’s so much information and analysis in there.