ESPN President John Skipper Has Resigned

By A.J. Katz 

Stunning news coming out of the sports world this morning. ESPN president John Skipper has resigned from his role at the company, citing “substance addiction” as the primary reason.

Here’s Skipper’s statement:

Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN.


I have had a wonderful career at The Walt Disney Company and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but most profoundly Michael Lynton, George Bodenheimer and Bob Iger.

I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction. I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.

I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate that I resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always.

I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.

As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding.

To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN’s success.

George Bodenheimer, ESPN’s president from 1998-2011 and executive chairman until May 2014, will take over as the acting chairman of the company for the next 90 days to help Disney chairman and ceo Bob Iger find Skipper’s replacement.

Here’s Iger’s statement:

“I join John Skipper’s many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time. I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family. With his departure, George Bodenheimer has agreed to serve as Acting Chair of ESPN for the next 90 days to provide interim leadership, help me identify and secure John’s successor, and ensure a smooth transition. I am grateful for George’s support and look forward to working with him again in this temporary role.”

The 61-year-old Skipper joined ESPN in 1997 as svp and gm of ESPN The Magazine. He was named to his current role on Jan. 1, 2012.

It has been a rough year for ESPN.

Just days earlier, Skipper held a 450-person staff meeting at the network’s Bristol, Ct.-based headquarters, which focused on the health of the company, the future of the network and the launch of its own standalone streaming service next year next spring, ESPN+.

Network executives also used the opportunity to address what’s become an increasingly problematic area for ESPN on-air talent, namely, their use of social media.

In September, SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill took to Twitter to call Pres. Donald Trump “a white supremacist” and a “bigot.” The White House responded, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders remarking during a press briefing that Hill’s comments were a “fireable offense.”

The network, which has been accused by some viewers of having a liberal bias, decided not to suspend Hill for that particular tweet, but suspended her for two weeks in October for being a repeat offender after suggesting a boycott of NFL advertisers during the height of the anthem kneeling controversy.

The company suspended ESPN personalities and former NFL players Donovan McNabb and Eric Davis, who host shows on ESPN Radio, last week after they were named in a lawsuit claiming they sexually harassed an employee at the NFL Network.

And just last week, the Boston Globe published a lengthy story detailing allegations of sexual harassment by ESPN on-air talent over the years, including allegations against high-profile ESPN anchor John Buccigross.

In addition to the sexual harassment allegations and political problems, ESPN has been having well-publicized issues when it comes to its general business model. The way people consume television content is rapidly changing, and ESPN has been hit hard.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been negatively impacted by declining subscription revenue and cord-cutting in recent years, and the network has also been forced to spend billions of dollars on TV rights deals with the major pro sports leagues and college conferences, including a 10-year, $15.2 billion deal with the NFL in 2011; a nine-year, $12 billion deal with the NBA; and a $7.3 billion deal for the NCAA college football playoffs.

These changes in the sports media business has forced ESPN to layoff hundreds of employees over the past few years, on-air commentators, anchors, journalists, and behind-the-scenes staffers alike.

Despite all of these issues, ESPN still remains the go-to destination for sports fans, and is consistently the No. 1 basic cable network in prime time among the advertiser-friendly demographic of adults 18-49.