Playing Hurt

My Journey from Despair to Hope


By John Saunders

By John U. Bacon

Foreword by Mitch Albom

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$20.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around August 8, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

For the first time ever, the popular late host of ESPN’s The Sports Reporters and ABC’s college football openly discusses a lifelong battle with depression.

During his three decades on ESPN and ABC, John Saunders became one of the nation’s most respected and beloved sportscasters. In this moving, jarring, and ultimately inspiring memoir, Saunders discusses his troubled childhood, the traumatic brain injury he suffered in 2011, and the severe depression that nearly cost him his life. As Saunders writes,

Playing Hurt is not an autobiography of a sports celebrity but a memoir of a man facing his own mental illness, and emerging better off for the effort. I will take you into the heart of my struggle with depression, including insights into some of its causes, its consequences, and its treatments.

I invite you behind the facade of my apparently “perfect” life as a sportscaster, with a wonderful wife and two healthy, happy adult daughters. I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am truly grateful. But none of these things can protect me or anyone else from the disease of depression and its potentially lethal effects.

Mine is a rare story: that of a black man in the sports industry openly grappling with depression. I will share the good, the bad, and the ugly, including the lengths I’ve gone to to conceal my private life from the public.

So why write a book? Because I want to end the pain and heartache that comes from leading a double life. I also want to reach out to the millions of people, especially men, who think they’re alone and can’t ask for help.

John Saunders died suddenly on August 10, 2016, from an enlarged heart, diabetes, and other complications. This book is his ultimate act of generosity to help those who suffer from mental illness, and those who love them.

  • "A story that merits both sympathy and attention."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "An inspiring call to action about mental illness."
    Sports Illustrated
  • "For sports fans and anyone who has struggled with depression."
    Library Journal
  • "The book...isn't a puffy portrait of the long-time fixture on ABC's college football coverage and 'The Sports Reporters'-though it's true Saunders was one of the most-liked sportscasters on ESPN through his career. This book explores Saunders' off-camera struggles, which included the events surrounding his life-long battle with depression...Readers will learn so many things about Saunders they would have never expected to hear-and they will also gain a better understanding of the day-to-day lives of people with depression. Saunders proves it's not what you think."
    Sporting News
  • "In this book, Saunders gives an astoundingly honest account of his lifelong struggle with depression...Playing Hurt makes it clear that depression doesn't care who you are. It doesn't care about your race, gender, age, family background, professional success, or anything else like that. This book also does an amazing job of saying to readers who suffer from this illness, "You are not alone," which is a message that can never be stated often enough...The honesty of this book, especially for such a public figure (who assumed he'd be alive when it was eventually published), is breathtaking...Playing Hurt is a gripping story, it is an emotional story, and above all else, it is an important story. It is not hyperbole to say that this book will save lives. It is a must-read."
    Clearing Out the Clutter
  • "[A] moving chronicle of [Saunders'] struggle...Readers will ache for him as he struggles to overcome brain trauma while still battling depression. This is a tough read; there's a lot of pain on the pages. But, as Saunders promised in his preface, there's a kind of hope as well."
  • "This is an important book. Parts will leave you shaken, others will inform you, still others will uplift you. Playing Hurt is the final act of grace in John's remarkable life, so we may learn of the toll of depression, the need for diagnosis and treatment, and the hope that awaits."
    Bob Ley, host of ESPN's Outside the Lines, winner of 11 Emmy Awards
  • "For 30 years, my friend John Saunders earned my admiration for his understated demeanor, his top-of-the-line professionalism, his Old World ways, and his gentle yet warm smile and laughter. I'm sure those who never met him except through TV felt the exact same way. After reading Playing Hurt, my respect for him has increased exponentially. So will yours. Thank you, John."
    Chris Berman, legendary ESPN broadcaster
  • "Playing Hurt is John Saunders's personal, poignant story of how he responded to childhood traumas, abuse, clinical depression, an array of head traumas, sports injuries, suicidal thoughts, and excessive use of prescribed medications throughout his life. His hard-learned message: when depression strikes, it is a sign of real strength to talk and turn to family, friends, and experts."
    John F. Greden, MD, Founding Chair, National Network of Depression Centers (NNDC)
  • "Playing Hurt is a public service. Here is a trusted friend, a man who has spent so many hours in our living rooms, providing an education about brain injury, about depression, and the symbiosis between the two. Knowing he died so soon after he emerged from this fog is heartbreaking. Playing Hurt is a testament to John and the hidden struggles he overcame."
    Ivan Maisel,, six-time winner Best Writing, Football Writers Association
  • "This book underscores the difficulty and significance of acknowledging depression, as well as understanding that this is not unlike any other serious and chronic illness. Then, as Saunders learns, with the assistance of skilled porfessionals and loving, caring, and supportive family and friends, it can be diagnoses, treated, and managed."
    Elissa P. Benedek, past President, American Psychiatric Association
  • "Edgy [and] revelatory...An important book about mental illness."
    Wil Haygood, Washington Post
  • "Will have you glued to your seat."
    "The Bookworm Sez" syndicated column
  • "A taboo busting and insightful memoir."
    Washington Book Review
  • "This isn't the typical sports memoir, focusing on career highlights and lowlights and the author patting themselves on the back. Instead, Playing Hurt focuses on the physical, mental, and emotional trauma that Saunders was subjected to during his life...Playing Hurt is an essential read for anyone, not just those battling depression or were fans of Saunders' work at ESPN...It is an important, enlightening read that will hopefully push more people to be open and public with their battles with depression and nudge those who feel like they need help to get the help that they deserve."

    Awful Announcing
  • "A chilling read...A fascinating life."
    Bob Ryan, Boston Globe
  • "I read the entire 293 pages in one sitting. I couldn't put it down...I miss John Saunders. After reading his book, which helped unlock some explanations for me, I miss him even more."
    ESPN?s John Buccigross
  • "An exceptional work...An amazing autobiography...Playing Hurt is often tough to read, but proves extremely informative and rewarding."

    Tennessee Tribune
  • "John Saunders' memoir is more than worth the read, not just because it's hard to put down, but because ultimately, he comes to terms with his serious mental illness. He writes about it. He talks about how it affected him. He opens up-to help others open up-before it's too late...It is a story of hope. It matters, and it will help save lives."
    Mental Health America
  • "Playing Hurt offers [Saunders'] story as a lifeline to others for whom depression is a daily challenge."
    Energy Times

On Sale
Aug 8, 2017
Page Count
328 pages
Da Capo Press

John Saunders

About the Author

John Saunders was a legendary ESPN and ABC sports broadcaster, known to millions of Americans as the face of college football and the arbiter of thoughtful sports journalism on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters. Saunders passed away on August 10th, 2016.

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John U. Bacon

About the Author

John U. Bacon is the New York Times bestselling author of, among other titles, Three and OutFourth and Long, and Endzone.

Learn more about this author