John Skipper says he resigned as ESPN president over a cocaine extortion plot

When ESPN president John Skipper stepped down from the post he held since 2012, citing a years-long battle with “a substance addiction,” many waited for the other shoe to drop, given the 62-year-old’s value to the company and his role in transforming the company from TV network to multimedia giant.

That other shoe dropped on Thursday.

In an interview with Hollywood Reporter contributor and famed ESPN historian James Andrew Miller, Skipper conceded that his December resignation came after an extortion plot by his cocaine dealer.

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On Wednesday, Dec. 13, Skipper delivered an impassioned speech to ESPN employees about the future of the company. On Monday, Dec. 18, he abruptly departed. In between, someone he bought cocaine from for the first time tried to extort him. On Friday, Dec. 15, he met with Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Iger, realizing he had put the company in “an untenable position,” and tendered 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,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “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.”

ESPN's John Skipper
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ESPN's John Skipper
John Skipper, President of ESPN, INC, and co-chairman, Disney Media Networks addresses the media in Digital Center 2, a new 194,000 sq. ft building on the ESPN campus in Bristol, Connecticut May 22, 2014 will be the new home of SportsCenter beginning June 2014. The facility includes 5 broadcast studios, 6 production control rooms, 4 audio control rooms and 16 edit suites. REUTERS/Michelle McLoughlin (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT SCIENCE TECHNOLOGY MEDIA)
Tom Staggs (L), Chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, and John Skipper, president of ESPN Inc. and co-chairman of Disney Media Networks, arrive at the annual Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 11, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
ESPN President John Skipper arrives for the annual Allen and Co. conference at Sun Valley, Idaho July 9, 2013. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS)
John Skipper, the executive vice president of content for ESPN, speaks at the Reuters Global Media Summit in New York, November 28, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT BUSINESS MEDIA)
General Sport - The Global Sports Summit 2010 - Grosvenor House Hotel, Park Lane, London - 29/10/10 ESPN Content Executive Vice President John Skipper during the Global Sports Summit Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Peter Cziborra

Skipper said his drug use was born from a desire “to be countercultural,” having worked at Rolling Stone for the first 10 years of his career, and “that recreational drugs were recreational, that they weren’t dangerous.” He repeatedly said his occasional cocaine use did not impact his work at ESPN.

“Never,” he added, also denying any other workplace improprieties. “At ESPN I did not use at work, nor with anyone at work, or with anyone I did business with. I never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments. I’ve never been a daily user. My use over the past two decades has, in fact, been quite infrequent. I judge that I did a very good job and that it did not get in the way of my work. I worked hard, I worked smart. I worked all the time.”

Skipper told Miller he has undergone treatment for his substance use and therapy “to think about how it intersected with my life.” He said the thought never occurred to him to publicly address the extortion attempt and enter a substance treatment program to save his job, because it all happened so quickly. And he called the 48 hours before his public resignation “an agonizing weekend.”

That’s the day, of course, that there is no turning back; it’s done, it’s gone, it’s public,” he told Miller. “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.”

Skipper told the Hollywood Reporter he hopes to reenter sports media in a consulting role.

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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