John Clayton, Legendary NFL Insider, Dies at 67

by Jonathan Howard
(Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

John Clayton, the former ESPN reporter and legendary NFL insider has died at 67. The sports world has been mourning. NFL fans of the 90s, 2000s, and 2010s will remember him fondly. His colleagues, friends, and others have already posted memories and messages regarding their late friend. He was working on the radio for ESPN in Seattle along with his own podcast when he passed away.

Clayton was a Pennslyvania sports guy through and through. He grew up in Braddock and eventually attended Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. His first time covering sports was while he was still in high school. He covered the Pittsburgh Steelers 1972 training camp for the Daily Press in St. Marys, PA. From there, he moved his way up to The Pittsburgh Press and kept on the Steelers beat.

After more than two decades of experience and a whole lot of work done between Pittsburgh and Seattle, John Clayton made his way to ESPN. In 1995, the worldwide leader in sports brought him onboard where he became a staple of their NFL coverage. He was on one of the first debate sports talk shows for ESPN, Four Downs. A show he cohosted with Sean Salisbury, former NFL QB.

Clayton was an icon. Plain and simple. A Hall of Famer, someone that paved the way for great reporting and being a great professional. He inspired a lot of young folks, like this Outsider writing this, to look for the stories just beyond the surface. To get the details that folks want.

Of course, you can’t talk about John Clayton and his ESPN career without mentioning the Sportscenter commercial. You know the one. It all started with a rumor from Dan Patrick when he left the network… Clayton has a ponytail…

John Clayton ‘This is Sportscenter’ Commercial Legend

The early 2010s brought us some great commercials from ESPN. “This is Sportscenter” always brought the best gags and jokes in sports. And, it made the sometimes stuffy writers and larger-than-life on-air personalities feel more human. A little look into the office around ESPN in the most ridiculous way possible.

Of course, few, if any can top the commercial that featured John Clayton and his luscious ponytail, fit for headbanging to some thrash metal tunes.

Of course, this wouldn’t have made any sense if the rumor hadn’t been started by Dan Patrick. The idea of a straight-laced and nice-looking guy like Clayton being a secret metal head with a massive ponytail? That’s just inherently funny. For as long as I live, I’ll never forget the words, “Hey ma! I’m done with my segment!” Like a Wayne’s World extra that found his way into being an NFL insider somehow.

Unfortunately, John Clayton was laid off by ESPN in 2017 during those massive layoffs that plagued the network. That was a scary time in sports media. However, he kept doing what he loved, went back to the radio in Seattle and made his own podcast, SCHOOLED W/ The Professor. Ponytail or not, Clayton was a legend and an icon. He will be missed by fans, friends, colleagues, and loved ones.