In a Q&A with Jim Miller published Thursday in The Hollywood Reporter, former ESPN president John Skipper revealed the somewhat sordid details of his December resignation, which had been previously explained only as relating to “substance abuse.”
Skipper told Miller that he used cocaine for most of his adult life but rarely allowed the habit to affect his work until, just before his resignation, someone he bought the drug from attempted to extort him.
Via The Hollywood Reporter:
JAM: Well, John, with all due respect, I’m a bit confused. There seems to be a big piece missing to this story. I’m looking at my notes: First, you’ve shared that you were an infrequent user of cocaine — something that could be true of others in the entertainment and media business. I’m not an expert in this area, but I’m not sure some would even call that an addiction. Second, you’ve stated categorically that your use never got in the way of your work. And third, you’ve admitted that on the days leading up to your decision to resign, you had no thoughts of resigning. None of that seems to explain why you reached the decision you had to resign.
I know this is difficult, John. I hope you understand why I’m pushing a bit here.
Skipper: In December, someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me.
JAM: Someone you had had dealings with in the past?
JAM: Again, respectfully, didn’t you just say you were careful about your dealings in this area?
Skipper: Not this time. It turned out I wasn’t careful this time.
JAM: What did they say?
Skipper: 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. 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.
JAM: Did you agree to resign because you understood that Bob couldn’t allow the company, by extension, to be threatened by whoever was extorting you?
Skipper: I did understand that.
Skipper resigned abruptly in December, only days after delivering a forward-looking speech to employees about the company’s direction. He told Miller that he had no plans to step aside until the day he was extorted: Friday, December 15. On that day, Skipper said, he had a long conversation with Disney CEO Bob Iger, during which the two agreed that resignation was the best course. The following Monday, Skipper announced his departure.
Though Skipper reasserted to Miller that he had resigned, not been fired, it is clear that Iger played a large role in the decision. Skipper said multiple times in the THR interview that he had put Iger in “an untenable situation” and added that “it became clear in my conversation with Bob what I needed to do.”
Skipper strongly denied rumors that he had resigned amid some sort of sexual misconduct allegations. Anyone who peddled such claims, he said, was being “categorically mendacious.”
Skipper: Those rumors and speculations are categorically and definitively untrue. There were no such incidents at work during my entire tenure, including no allegations. I did not traffic in that kind of activity. The company is not engaged in any actions on my behalf and never has been. There were no affairs or inappropriate relationships at work nor indiscretions other than what I have disclosed. My behavior relative to women at ESPN was always respectful. I did not touch anybody inappropriately. I did not tell off-color jokes. I treated everybody with respect. The principle reason I chose to write the statement I wrote — to disclose substance abuse — was to make it clear that this didn’t have anything to do with harassment, settled lawsuits or any internal indiscretions. I never had any relationships, even consensual adult relationships, with anybody at work. And as far as I know, there was never a single claim of one.
Skipper served as ESPN president for seven years after previously working as executive vice president of content.
ESPN announced last week that Disney executive Jimmy Pitaro would be Skipper’s successor.