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No specific cause of death was immediately released.
Nicknamed “The Professor,” Clayton spent more than two decades covering the Pittsburgh Steelers for The Pittsburgh Press and the Seattle Seahawks for The News Tribune in Tacoma.
In 1995, he moved to ESPN, becoming one of the lead NFL writers for the company. Clayton appeared on TV and radio for ESPN and worked at the company for more than 20 years. In 2017, Clayton, a native of Pittsburgh, reportedly left the cable news sports channel.
ESPN reporter John Clayton during the NFL game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Los Angeles Rams at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Oct. 2, 2016. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
“Long before he became an ESPN icon, John might have been the best news-breaking team beat reporter of his generation, the type who could sit on a story for months and then break it before others had any clue what was going on,” said Mike Sando, a friend of Clayton, ESPN reported.
“He was that good,” Sando went on to say. “On a personal level, John was incredibly generous to me when I succeeded him as the Seahawks beat reporter at the Tacoma News Tribune many years ago. I owe so much to John and will miss him terribly.”
As his death was announced, social media quickly flooded with tributes for the beloved and one of the most recognizable journalists on television.
“The Seahawks are heartbroken to learn of the passing of John Clayton after a battle with a brief illness,” the Seattle-based NFL team said. “We send our deepest condolences to Pat and the Clayton family.”
Chris Mortensen, a longtime ESPN colleague of Clayton, said on Twitter his wife, Pat, and sister Amy, were both at his side when he died peacefully. “We loved John. We are mourning his loss,” Mortensen said.
Clayton was awarded what is now known as the Bill Nunn Memorial Award by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) in 2007. The award is presented annually for long and distinguished reporting on football.
“The PFWA mourns the passing of John Clayton. John was the PFWA’s 19th president (1999–2000) and the organization’s 2007 Bill Nunn Jr. Award recipient,” the organization said in a statement. “‘The Professor’ was a friend to so many in our business. Our condolences to his wife Pat, family, colleagues and his many friends.”
The Pittsburgh Steelers, where Clayton began his sports reporting career in 1972 covering the professional football team, also offered condolences in a statement.
“We are very saddened to learn of the passing of John Clayton,” the Steelers said. “He was a Pittsburgh media icon who covered the Steelers for over a decade.”
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