In December of last year, ESPN President John Skipper abruptly resigned from his position due to “substance addiction.” Skipper, 62, had been with Disney for 27 years, and with ESPN specifically since 1997. He was named president of the sports network in January 2012 and was responsible for spearheading the network’s push to acquire long-term rights deals for live sporting events from the NBA, college football, and more. For the first time since his sudden resignation, Skipper spoke to ESPN historian and journalist James Andrew Miller for The Hollywood Reporter.
Although Skipper acknowledged in the statement he shared when he left the network that his departure was due to “substance abuse,” the reality seems a bit more wild than just a standard guy gone off the rails. Skipper identifies his issue as a cocaine one—he’s never done harder drugs like heroin or opioids and is able to remain a social drinker. “You know, I’m an old hippie, and then an old New Yorker from the '80s,” he says.
“I grew up wanting to be countercultural. I worked at Rolling Stone for the first 10 years of my professional life. I had a point of view that recreational drugs were recreational, that they weren’t dangerous. That they could be used without repercussions.”
With that said, though, Skipper is adamant that he never used cocaine at work or with anyone from work. “I never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments. I’ve never been a daily user. My use over the past two decades has, in fact, been quite infrequent.”
Why, then, did he resign, and why was the departure so sudden? He was being extorted by someone whom he had bought cocaine from since December. “They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper admits. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob [Iger, CEO of Disney], he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”
Skipper also admits to being deeply regretful of his mistakes, but he recognizes that his behavior was wrong. “Look, it was inappropriate for the president of ESPN and an officer of The Walt Disney Co. to be associated in any way with any of this,” he said. “I do want to make it clear, however, that anything I did in this regard, and anything else resulting from this, was a personal problem.”
He wouldn’t change a thing about how the situation unfolded—he knew he had to resign, and that’s that. “I cried because I realized the profundity of what I’d done to myself, to my family, and that I’d given up the best job in sports on the planet,” he said.
Now, Skipper has been in therapy and has undergone treatment. “I thought the best thing to do was to take the time to check myself into a facility, and I was able to understand a bit more about substance use and to think about how it intersected with my life,” he said. “Therapy isn’t easy, particularly for a Southerner tightly wound with traditional values. I have not necessarily been comfortable reflecting and being self-reflective.”
You can read the rest of John Skipper’s interview over at The Hollywood Reporter.