Ex-ESPN President John Skipper Says He Quit Over a Cocaine Extortion Plot

"They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk."
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas—USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of mystery surrounding the departure of John Skipper back in December, when the then-president of ESPN suddenly resigned. But in an interview with James Andrew Miller of the Hollywood Reporter released this morning, Skipper claims that his reason for leaving—previously stated ambiguously as a "substance addiction"—was related to someone trying to extort him for his cocaine use.

In the long interview, Skipper eventually said that he was an infrequent user of cocaine and that his use never interfered with his work. But it took some digging from Miller to get to the story about his extortion. Miller starts to lean into his questioning a bit more and tries to parse out why what sounded like a recreational use of cocaine would be enough of a blemish on his reputation to cause him to resign.

That's when Skipper revealed that he purchased cocaine from a new dealer for the first time and that they attempted to extort him. From the Hollywood Reporter:

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 [Iger, Disney CEO], 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 after 21 years working for the Disney-owned sports media empire—and six years as president. Skipper reaffirmed to Miller that his resignation had nothing to do with sexual harassment allegations—and that his initial statement about substance abuse was to help clear the air about any speculation surrounding that. He also said he has sought treatment for his "addiction."

"I knew then I had a problem I needed to address," Skipper said. "I acted very foolishly. It made me want to seek help and get this out of my life."