Former ESPN President: My Cocaine Dealer Tried To Extort Me

By Keri Blakinger 03/19/18

In a recent interview, former ESPN bigwig John Skipper revealed the truth behind his abrupt resignation from the company.

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Former ESPN president John Skipper
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It was the blow that blew his career, former ESPN president John Skipper revealed last week. 

When the sports media big abruptly resigned from his posh post back in December, he didn’t offer much detail—except to say that he was handling a substance use problem. 

“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction,” he said at the time in a statement. “I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.”

But now, nearly three months later, Skipper dished the full story to The Hollywood Reporter. And it turns out it wasn’t just the blow—there was some blackmail involved, too. 

The 62-year-old described himself as a long-time, occasional user. He was, he said, “careful”—so careful that even many who knew him well had no idea of his illicit pastime, according to the New York Times

But in mid-December, he wasn’t careful enough, he said, when someone he bought drugs from tried to extort him. 

“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,” he said. To mitigate the possible harms to his company and his family, Skipper told his loved ones first—then had a sobering conversation with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

“When I discussed it with Bob, he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign,” he said. “It was inappropriate for the president of ESPN and an officer of The Walt Disney Co. to be associated in any way with any of this.”

Skipper also clarified that he never used opioids and said he didn’t let his drug use interfere with his job, “other than a missed plane and a few canceled morning appointments”

“I’ve never been a daily user,” he added. It’s unclear whether Skipper involved the police or reported the plot. 

Skipper’s resignation late last year took many in the media company by surprise, and came amid ongoing struggles—including a downturn in subscribership and a fraying relationship with the NFL.

In the months since Skipper’s departure, James Pitaro was named as his replacement. 

It’s not clear what the future holds now for Skipper.

“In some ways I have no choice but to make the best of it. And I do intend to make the best of it. I’ve been meeting with people, and that has gotten me even more excited,” he said.

“I’m healthy, and I’m ready to plunge back in. I don’t know exactly what form that will take. I don’t think it will take the form of a large corporate job, managing a lot of people and running a big company. I think it will take the form of helping a few smart people; people I like and respect and who do things that matter.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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