ESPN President Blames Coke Dealer For His Resignation, Says He Faced Extortion

Written by Dana Sanchez

Former ESPN President John Skipper resigned abruptly from his job on Dec. 18 citing a substance addiction, after working for 27 years for network parent Disney.

Less than three months later, Skipper describes a scenario that does not sound like an addiction — one in which he used drugs recreationally, “quite infrequently,” and in a way that he said never impacted his work at ESPN.

He quit because his cocaine dealer threatened to extort him, Skipper said in a Hollywood Reporter interview published today.

“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. I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob (Walt Disney Co. CEO Bob Iger), he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”

Skipper, 62, became president of ESPN in 2012. He did not elaborate on who extorted him or why, Daily Mail reported. He was replaced by Jimmy Pitaro, Disney’s former chairman of consumer products and interactive media.

ESPN
Mark Lennihan/AP/REX/Shutterstock

ESPN has faced negative publicity recently. Former ESPN host Adrienne Lawrence filed a sexual harassment lawsuit claiming the network is misogynistic.

The network also got blowback after suspending on-air personality Jemele Hill, who accused President Donald Trump in a tweet of being a racist.

Skipper suspended Jemele Hill after she accused President Donald Trump of being a racist in a tweet. Photo: Daily Mail

Trump crowed about Hill’s suspension in a tweet:

‘With Jemele Hill at the mike (sic), it is no wonder ESPN ratings have “tanked,” in fact, tanked so badly it is the talk of the industry!’ Trump tweeted.

Hill has since returned to Disney — but not to ESPN’s Sports Center. She has a new role in a multi-year deal as chief correspondent and senior columnist on The Undefeated, an ESPN site that explores the intersections of sports, race and culture.

“Like other networks, ESPN has been affected by the changing habits of cable consumers – most notably cord cutters — Daily Mail reported. After being seen in 100.13 million households in 2011, ESPN reaches only 87.5 million today.”

ESPN has had several rounds of layoffs — reportedly to the tune of three figures — and went through internal battles with the National Football League.

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The rising cost of league rights has also been an issue for ESPN, which faced Wall Street backlash after the network bought the rights to the NBA, along with Turner Sports, for nine years at a cost of $24 billion, according to Daily Mail.

The NBA announced the nine-year, $24 billion TV rights deal with ESPN and Turner in 2014. It took effect this season.

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About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.