Quinnipiac instructor, ESPN pioneer Barry Sacks dies

Longtime Quinnipiac University instructor Barry Sacks, 63, of Southbury, Connecticut, died at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury on Feb. 12 after suffering a heart attack two days prior.

Sacks had been an adjunct instructor of journalism in the School of Communications since 2015, where he taught courses in sports journalism. He joined Quinnipiac at the end of an illustrious career at ESPN that spanned more than three decades.

Barry Sacks via LinkedIn.

After joining the network as a production assistant in 1982, Sacks went on to become a producer for ESPN until his retirement in 2016. He is recognized as one of the founding forces behind “SportsCenter” and “College Gameday,” two of ESPN’s longest-running shows.

An Ithaca College graduate, Sacks held many positions before landing at ESPN, including as a radio sports director, newspaper reporter and sports writer.

At Quinnipiac, Sacks taught two graduate sports production courses as well as sports broadcasting for undergraduates, the latter which he created.

In a statement to the Chronicle on behalf of Sacks’ family, nephew DJ Carey said his uncle was the “bedrock of our family and the center (of) our universe.”

“Even though Barry is no longer with us, he’s left a mark on us all,” Carey wrote. “His tenacity, passion and kindness are now a little part of us all. And for those of you who were lucky to have known him he’s a part of you now, too.”

Molly Yanity, chair of journalism and director of the graduate program in journalism, said Sacks was a beloved member of the community for his “fun and gregarious” personality. She said he enjoyed getting to know his students.

“He was always the first person to email me and say, ‘When are class rosters out?’ because he wanted to get the photo lineups of everybody and see who was in his class,” Yanity said.

Sacks’ passion for sports was a driving force for his career. Yanity said he approached his job as a producer with the mindset of a sports fan, which reflected in the classroom.

His tenacity, passion and kindness are now a little part of us all. And for those of you who were lucky to have known him he’s a part of you now, too.

— Nephew DJ Carey

Peter Howarth, a sports journalism graduate student who was in Sacks’ class this semester, said his instructor “lived and breathed” sports.

“It seems like every class he had another story to tell us about,” Howarth said.

Howarth said Sacks spoke just weeks ago about his experience producing the 1989 MLB World Series after an earthquake struck northern California, the site of the game.

“He said ever since then, he has a contingency of what to do if there’s an earthquake,” Howarth said. “Whatever problem there is, he either experienced it or he knew what to do in that situation.”

Beyond the classroom, Yanity said Sacks was a mentor to students.

“He wasn’t just a teacher,” Yanity said. “He worked with students, helped them believe in themselves (and stayed) friends with them all throughout their career.”

Sacks’ positive impact on those he encountered rang true after the news of his passing. Many of his former students, colleagues and friends took to social media over the weekend to share fond memories of Sacks.

Robyn Brown, a graduate of the sports journalism master’s program, first got to know Sacks as a student in 2017, before working alongside him for the Connecticut Sun organization. She said Sacks became “the biggest mentor (she) ever had.”

“There’s just a kindness about him and a love that you felt and you knew that he cared about you,” Brown said. “I feel like his heart was honestly bigger than the world.”

Liz Flynn, who graduated from the sports journalism master’s program in 2021, had Sacks for two classes and said that he was an inspiration to all of his students.

“If you knew him, you were lucky enough to know him, and you hit the jackpot if you had him as a professor,” Flynn said. “He just cared so much about his students. He was like a dad to every single person.”

Flynn, who currently works as an assistant photographer for the New York Mets, said that she will never forget when she told Sacks about getting her job.

“He was just so proud of me and so happy, and there are so many things that he taught me that I still even use for work now,” Flynn said. “I know that he was so happy for me even though he didn’t teach me a thing about photography, but he made me such a better person.”

The department of journalism held a ceremony Feb. 14 to “gather, grieve and share memories” of Sacks, Yanity wrote in an email to students in the School of Communications Feb. 13. More than three dozen of Sacks’ former students and colleagues attended the gathering.

“He was such a genuinely decent human being who gave a shit about what he did for a living,” said Richard Hanley, associate professor of journalism, at the gathering. “I think Barry taught all of you to give a shit about your professional careers.”

John Morgan, Quinnipiac’s associate vice president for public relations, wrote in a statement that the university sends its condolences to Sacks’ family and friends and is offering counseling services to students.

“Beloved by his students, Barry was one of the linchpins of our sports journalism offerings, and the reason why so many of his students have had successful careers,” Morgan said.

Sacks is survived by his wife JoAnn Newberry Sacks and his son Jesse Newberry Sacks.

Yanity and journalism professor Nick Pietruszkiewicz will be available for those who wish to reflect on Sacks as a professor and as a friend throughout the week, according to an email sent to the Quinnipiac community by School of Communications Dean Chris Roush on Feb. 12.