John Skipper resigned as ESPN president and co-chairman of the Disney Media Networks, last December, citing struggles with “substance addiction.”
In an interview with James Andrew Miller, Skipper reveals what happened in the days leading up to his resignation — explaining he had not planned on stepping down even the Friday before his Monday announcement — and whether or not the choice was his or Disney CEO Bob Iger’s.
“In December, someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me,” Skipper told Miller, who interviewed him over the course of several hours at the beginning of March for the story published Thursday by The Hollywood Reporter. While the ex-ESPN boss said he had been cautious about his dealings in the past, “it turned out I wasn’t careful this time.”
“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 said. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob, he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”
When asked directly if Iger asked him to resign, Skipper said, “It was clear to me that I put Bob in an untenable position.”
Skipper told Miller that before the extortion attempt, he “never” let his cocaine use interfere with his tasks at the Worldwide Leader in Sports and was “more than unusually clever in devising ways to separate my professional life from my personal life.”
“At ESPN I did not use at work, nor with anyone at work, or with anyone I did business with,” Skipper said. “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. I judge that I did a very good job and that it did not get in the way of my work. I worked hard, I worked smart. I worked all the time.”
Skipper says that he did get “some therapy” and “treatment” following his admission of substance abuse in his resignation statement.
“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. Therapy isn’t easy, particularly for a Southerner tightly wound with traditional values. I have not necessarily been comfortable reflecting and being self-reflective.”
The Disney vet — who spent 27 years at the company — said that any rumors he resigned over sexual misconduct are “categorically and definitively untrue.”
When asked about James Pitaro, who was named his successor earlier this month, he said the change has a “certain pang to it.”
“Because it has a sort of definitive finality, that OK, somebody new is going to be in charge,” Skipper said. “The good news is that Jimmy Pitaro is a good guy; I like Jimmy very much. He’s a good, smart executive. His style will work at ESPN. I wish him well, and (laughs) I hope he does better than the last guy! “
When reached by TheWrap, ESPN had “no comment” on the story.