Former ESPN President John Skipper has spoken publicly for the first time about his exit from the worldwide leader in sports. In a lengthy conversation with James Andrew Miller of the Hollywood Reporter, Skipper attributes his departure to an extortion plot.
Among the noteworthy comments offered by Skipper were an acknowledgement that he’s gone to therapy and received treatment for his lifelong battle with substance abuse. Skipper said his vice was cocaine, but he never got high at work or allowed it to interfere with his responsibilities of overseeing ESPN. He added that his usage was very infrequent
When pressed by Miller for clarity on whether or not he was forced to resign by Disney CEO Bob Iger, Skipper said he made the call himself after placing Iger in an untenable position. He confirmed that they spoke on Friday afternoon December 15th and his exit from the company was announced just three days later. When asked if he had considered resigning earlier in the week (Wednesday December 13th) when he spoke about the state of the company to a room full of ESPN employees, he said he had not.
Miller then pressed Skipper to explain how such a life altering decision could manifest itself within the span of 48 hours. Skipper opened up and admitted that someone from whom he had purchased cocaine attempted to extort him, leading him to face the reality that his time at ESPN was about to expire.
After being threatened, and put in a position to think about how the exposure could hurt his family and career, Skipper shared the details with his family. He then reached out to Iger, who felt the company had been put in a no-win situation, with the best solution being for Skipper to step down.
Given the circumstances, Skipper said he felt it was the only decision that made sense for all involved. He blamed himself for using poor judgement, and when asked by Miller why he couldn’t have just admitted the issue publicly and taken a leave of absence to get himself clean, Skipper said he didn’t ask for that outcome and had been overwhelmed by the situation. After talking to Iger and coming to terms with how he had put the company in a compromised position, it was made clear what his next steps needed to be.
The conversation then advanced to the rumors of sexual harassment being a factor in his exit from the company. Skipper categorically denied any involvement in such incidents and said that his behavior towards women at ESPN was always respectful. He mentioned that when he announced his resignation, his statement was written to make it clear that his exit was related to substance issue problems, and unrelated to anything surrounding harassment, settled lawsuits or any internal indiscretions.
Prior to announcing his exit, Skipper said he spent the weekend agonizing over what was about to occur. He said he was filled with great regret and tension, didn’t eat, wasn’t sleeping, and had become despondent.
When Monday rolled around, Skipper said he was in New York City when the news was revealed publicly. He said he rarely cries, but did so that day because he understood what he had done to himself, his family, and the company. He spoke about his disappointment of people he cared about and enjoyed working with having to find out about his departure thru a press release, and felt terrible about letting them down.
After spending 27 years with the company, Skipper blamed himself for creating a situation which undoubtedly stained his legacy. He did tell Miller that he would like to get back into the business and do things that matter. He feels he has no choice but to make the best of a bad ending, and intends to do so moving forward. The former ESPN president confirmed that he’s healthy, in a better state of mind, and has taken a few meetings to discuss future possibilities.
To close out the interview, Skipper said new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro is someone he likes very much, and considers a talented and smart executive. He feels Pitaro’s style will be a great fit for ESPN, and added “I hope he does better than the last guy!”