Former ESPN Head John Skipper Says Cocaine Led to Resignation

Former ESPN president John Skipper said he suddenly left the sports network late last year because he was using cocaine and was being extorted by a drug supplier.

In an interview in The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper said that, facing exposure, he told his family and his boss, The Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger, about his addiction.

That conversation led to his leaving ESPN.

Related: Skipper Resigns as ESPN President

“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’s resignation came as a shock to ESPN staffers. Just days before, he’d addressed employees, outlining his plans for pushing the company into the future.

The finality of the resignation on Dec. 18 hit him hard, he said.

"That’s the day, of course, that there is no turning back; it’s done, it’s gone, it’s public," Skipper said. "It was miserable. I spent it mostly by myself in New York City. I cry sentimentally at movies, but I never cry personally. That’s the only day that I cried. And I cried because I 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."

Earlier this month, Disney said that ESPN’s new president would be Disney exec Jimmy Pitaro. Skipper was asked what he thought of the announcement.

“Yeah, of course it has a certain pang to it," he said. "Because it has a sort of definitive finality, that OK, somebody new is going to be in charge. 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!”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.