ESPN boss who shocked the media world by resigning says he did it because of a cocaine extortion plot

  • John Skipper resigned suddenly as ESPN president in December, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”
  • In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper shed light on the days leading up to his resignation, a time he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.
  • Skipper said he resigned after disclosing the extortion to Disney CEO Bob Iger, agreeing at the time that he had “placed the company in an untenable position.”

In December, John Skipper resigned suddenly from his role as president of ESPN and cochairman of Disney Media Networks, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”

The move came as a shock to the sports-media world at the time. But in a new interview with the ESPN historian James Andrew Miller for The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper described the difficult days leading up to his resignation, which he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.

In the interview, Skipper said he had been an “infrequent” cocaine user and that his drug use did not interfere with his work at ESPN. When Miller pressed him on that, saying the behavior Skipper described didn’t sound like an addiction, Skipper said that in December someone he had not previously bought cocaine from “attempted to extort” him and that this ultimately brought about a discussion with Disney CEO Bob Iger that led to his resignation.

“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.”

“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 later 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. My drug use never had any professional repercussions, but I still have profound regret.”

Skipper described spending the day after his resignation by himself in New York City, crying as he “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 went on to call James Pitaro, the man who replaced him as ESPN president on March 5, “a good, smart executive” whose “style will work at ESPN.”

Read the interview here.