The sports media world was stunned by the sudden resignation from then-ESPN president John Skipper on Dec. 18, 2017, when the widely beloved boss at the Worldwide Leader announced he was stepping down.
Skipper cited a “substance addiction” problem in his resignation letter, but never fully explained what happened. The move shocked ESPN employees, as well as those outside of Bristol. Among those caught unaware was James Andrew Miller, who is as plugged in as any reporter about the inner workings of ESPN, and who even recorded a podcast with Skipper days prior to his resignation (you can also listen to Miller discuss the shocking news on the Dime Podcast, as he was UPROXX’s guest two weeks later).
On Thursday, Miller released an interview with Skipper in The Hollywood Reporter, which marks the first time he’s spoken publicly since his resignation. In the interview, Skipper explained in detail exactly what he meant by “substance addiction,” and what precipitated his sudden resignation. Skipper told Miller the substance in question was cocaine, but insisted he wasn’t a daily user, never used it at work or with coworkers, and that it never impacted his ability to work “other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments.”
As a recreational user who believed he was successfully keeping it from affecting his work, it naturally begged the question from Miller of why it would lead to his resignation. That is when Skipper, after some prodding, explained how one sloppy mistake — buying from someone he didn’t know — led to an extortion attempt that caused his ouster.
“In December, someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me,” Skipper said. “… 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], he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”
Skipper, who earlier in the interview noted he had gone to a treatment facility and therapy, explained that a big part of his treatment was now learning to look at the ways he was compartmentalizing his different lives — his work life, personal life and party life — and to ensure he no longer “deceives” himself and others by separating those things and believing that one doesn’t affect the other.
“In order to do what I did you have to be a master of compartmentalization. Which is why people are going, ‘I don’t understand this.’ Because they have the belief that they can recognize someone who has a problem. Because it ‘has to’ manifest itself. And I did a very good job of not letting it manifest itself, with the exception — and this part is another piece of the part that I let myself down and I did not hold myself to the standard I should have, which is, in order to compartmentalize you have to deceive yourself and deceive other people. And that’s not who I want to be, and I think that has to be part of my rehabilitation.”
While “cocaine dealer’s extortion plot leads to ESPN president’s resignation” is a stunning headline, this is the part of the interview that can resonate and hopefully help others. Skipper, like many others, likely didn’t believe he had a drug problem until he was confronted with this situation. He noted in the interview he grew up wanting to be “countercultural” and believed recreational drugs could be used recreationally and not cause problems in other parts of his life. Eventually, doing it in secret and hiding it from everyone became second nature to him, as it does with many drug users.
The entire situation is unfortunate, but can hopefully be a lesson learned for Skipper and others who see his story and may be in a similar position to the one he was in, prior to being extorted. Thinking they have everything under control, when in actuality they are one slip-up away from disaster, and need to take a step back to reevaluate things.