The sports media world was rocked on Monday morning with the news that ESPN president John Skipper would be resigning from the company, effective immediately.
In a statement released by ESPN, Skipper cited a substance addiction as the reason for his resignation.
“Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN,” Skipper said in a statement. “I have had a wonderful career at the Walt Disney Company and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but most profoundly Michael Lynton, George Bodenheimer and Bob Iger.
“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.
“I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always.
“I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.
“As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding.
“To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN’s success.”
Skipper had served as the president of ESPN since the beginning of 2012. George Bodenheimer, his predecessor as president, will take over as the acting chairman for the next 90 days, helping Disney chairman Bob Iger find a successor.
Iger and Bodenheimer also released statements about Skipper’s departure. First, from Iger.
“I join John Skipper’s many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time. I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family. With his departure, George Bodenheimer has agreed to serve as Acting Chair of ESPN for the next 90 days to provide interim leadership, help me identify and secure John’s successor, and ensure a smooth transition. I am grateful for George’s support and look forward to working with him again in this temporary role.”
And from Bodenheimer.
“I have great respect for John’s leadership, and I applaud the courage he’s demonstrating by addressing his challenge head on. The most important thing right now for John and his family is that he conquers his addiction, and the entire ESPN family is behind him.
“I’ve stayed in close contact with John, and I believe in the direction he’s taking ESPN. He’s assembled an outstanding leadership team – many of whom I know very well – and I am extremely confident we will work together effectively to move ESPN forward during this transition.”
This news comes as a shock, given that Skipper just signed a new extension to continue leading ESPN through 2021 last month. He also spoke, representing ESPN, during last week’s Sports Video Group summit, and made an appearance during the social media summit in Bristol.
Overall, it’s been a rough year for Skipper, who has had to contend with numerous outrages on social media, related to Sage Steele, Jemele Hill, Robert Lee, and Barstool Sports, to name just a few. Skipper has also been blasted by former ESPNers for his leadership (or lack thereof), including Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann.
Whoever replaces Skipper will have a difficult task on their hands, and will need to contend with declining ratings, rising costs related to rights fees, a turbulent social media climate, the 2019 launch of the ACC Network, and the pending Fox sale to Disney, which would bring all of Fox’s RSNs under ESPN’s control if approved.
It’ll be a challenge, and Skipper’s successor will need all the help he can get.