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Former ESPN president John Skipper says he resigned because of extortion plot

John Skipper ran ESPN from 2012 until his departure in 2017. | David Kohl/AP Photo

Former ESPN president John Skipper says he abruptly resigned from the company in December because of an extortion plot involving someone he bought cocaine from, according to an interview published Thursday by The Hollywood Reporter.

Skipper, the head of ESPN since 2012, unexpectedly departed from the company last year with a statement citing substance addiction as the cause. At the time, he said that “the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.”

Now ready to offer more details on why he left his position at The Walt Disney Company, which owns ESPN, Skipper said that the real issue was an extortion plot involving a drug dealer. After disclosing the situation to his family and Disney CEO Bob Iger, he decided that it was appropriate to resign.

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,” Skipper said.

Skipper says the person was someone he had not dealt with before, and while he tried to be careful when acquiring illegal drugs, “It turned out I wasn’t careful this time.”

Rather than fight to keep his job at that point, he says he “didn’t ask for that outcome.”

Skipper worked at Disney for 27 years and led ESPN’s aggressive effort to acquire live rights to sporting events in recent years.

He denied that his drug use impacted his work at ESPN, and also denied claims that his departure had anything to do with conduct around women in the workplace. “Those rumors and speculations are categorically and definitively untrue,” he said.

Skipper said he would like to return to sports media eventually. Disney recently hired Jimmy Pitaro to replace him as ESPN president.