James Andrew Miller interviewed former ESPN President John Skipper in THR about his abrupt exit from the company in December after 27 years under the Disney umbrella. At the time, Skipper stated he was battling a “substance addiction.” He provided further details to Miller — including that the substance was cocaine and an extortion plot from a dealer precipitated his departure.
“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.”
Skipper said that he opted to leave instead of disclosing his issues and holding open the possibility of returning because he was “overwhelmed by the circumstance.” He also categorically denies any work-related issue involving a female employee, which has been an area of unsubstantiated speculation since he left.
Despite Miller’s deft pressure on certain elements of the story, Skipper’s narrative leaves a few pressing questions. First, why was the process so expedited? It reads as if Skipper immediately operated under the assumption that he couldn’t recover from this mistake. After such a long and fruitful career, the decision to walk away was made in a matter of hours.
Secondly, and this may be unknowable, but would the same decision have been made — mutually or otherwise — had ESPN been thriving at the time of the incident? It’s easy to believe Skipper had a smaller margin for error considering the recent hiccups than he would have at the apex of the company’s success under his rein.