ESPN President John Skipper Steps Down, Citing a Substance Addiction

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John Skipper during the 2017 ESPN upfront.
John Skipper during the 2017 ESPN upfront. Credit: Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images

ESPN on Monday announced that president John Skipper has resigned his position at the sports media colossus, which in the near term will be overseen by his predecessor, George Bodenheimer.

Skipper revealed that he was stepping down in order to address a longtime battle with an unspecified "substance addiction."

"Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN," Skipper wrote. "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 come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down," Skipper wrote. "As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding."

Skipper's shocking revelation arrives just a month after ESPN extended his contract through 2021. A 20-year ESPN veteran, Skipper has overseen day-to-day operations at the network since 2012, when he succeeded Bodenheimer as president. Bodenheimer, who famously got his start in the ESPN mailroom, will assume the role of acting chairman of the company for the next 90 days, during which he'll assist Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger in identifying Skipper's replacement.

"I have great respect for John's leadership, and I applaud the courage he's demonstrating by addressing his challenge head on," Bodenheimer said in a statement of his own. "The most important thing right now for John and his family is that he conquers his addiction, and the entire ESPN family is behind him."

New guard

Bodenheimer went on to say that Skipper was leaving the ESPN enterprise in good order. "I've stayed in close contact with John, and I believe in the direction he's taking ESPN. He's assembled an outstanding leadership team—many of whom I know very well—and I am extremely confident we will work together effectively to move ESPN forward during this transition."

The sudden resignation of ESPN's erudite, affable chief may only accelerate what many insiders believe is the inevitable coronation of rising star Connor Schell, who this summer was elevated to exec VP for content. In that role, Schell oversees all studio and remote production, as well as digital and print content creation. The co-creator of ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series, Schell's reports include exec VP for production Norby Williamson and "SportsCenter" boss Rob King.

Iger, who per the terms of Disney's tentative deal to acquire a good chunk of the 21st Century Fox assets, will continue to lead the Mouse House through 2021. As with Bodenheimer, Iger also wished the outgoing Skipper the best of luck.

"I join John Skipper's many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time," Iger said. "I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family."

Skipper leaves ESPN with an expansive (and pricey) portfolio of high-end sports properties. Among the rights packages that were developed and/or renewed under Skipper's watch include the College Football Playoff and multi-year pacts with the NBA and Major League Baseball. (ESPN signed off on the most recent renewal of its NFL rights deal in December 2011, just weeks before Bodenheimer officially passed the baton to Skipper.)

ESPN's annual bill for its suite of rights deals adds up to some $5.7 billion. With an estimated affiliate fee of $7.86 per subscriber per month, ESPN this year is on track to amass around $8.2 billion in subscriber revenue.

Skipper closed out his note by asserting that it had been "a privilege" to work with his colleagues over the last two decades. "I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN's success," Skipper concluded. "I have had a wonderful career at Disney and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships."

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