clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Former ESPN boss John Skipper says he left his job because a cocaine dealer tried to extort him

“I had placed the company in an untenable position.”

ESPN boss John Skipper at Code Media Asa Mathat for Vox Media
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Former ESPN boss John Skipper says he resigned last year because someone who had sold him cocaine was threatening to extort him.

Skipper’s disclosure, made via an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, solves a much-discussed mystery: Why did the man running one of the most powerful media properties in the world abruptly leave his post?

In December, Skipper said he was stepping down to deal with an unnamed “substance addiction.”

Now, he tells journalist James Andrew Miller that he had been a cocaine user over “the past two decades,” but says that up until late last year, he had “never allowed it to interfere with my work, other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments.”

What changed in December, Skipper says, was that “someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me.” At that point, he says, he told his family, and then Disney CEO Bob Iger. Skipper said he and Iger “agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”

Since Skipper’s surprise resignation, speculation has swirled about the backstory behind the move. Some industry observers wondered if Iger had asked Skipper to leave because he wasn’t happy with ESPN’s performance, or if Skipper had issues beyond substance abuse, perhaps involving sexual misconduct.

Skipper tells Miller that “those rumors and speculations are categorically and definitively untrue. There were no such incidents at work during my entire tenure, including no allegations.”

Last week, Disney announced that Jimmy Pitaro, who had been running the company’s digital and licensing business, would replace Skipper. I’ve asked Disney and ESPN reps for comment.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.