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Former ESPN Chief Discloses Cocaine Use and Extortion Attempt That Forced His Resignation

Former ESPN chief John Skipper has disclosed that an extortion attempt related to his purchase of cocaine led to his abrupt resignation from the sports behemoth in December.

In an interview with author James Andrew Miller, Skipper acknowledged that his periodic use of cocaine over the years had grown into a substance abuse problem. He offered few details of the extortion effort but said it became clear he had to resign after discussing his predicament with Disney CEO Bob Iger.

“I had a substance abuse problem. I grew up wanting to be countercultural. I worked at Rolling Stone for the first 10 years of my professional life,” Skipper said in the interview published Thursday by the Hollywood Reporter. “I had a point of view that recreational drugs were recreational, that they weren’t dangerous. That they could be used without repercussions.”

Of the blackmail effort, Skipper said: “In December, someone from whom I bought cocaine attempted to extort me.”

Skipper said he never used cocaine on the job and felt that his drug use never interfered with his work. But the threat of an embarrassing exposure forced him to confront his addiction.

“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. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then 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.”

Skipper emphasized that he never faced any employee complaints of sexual harassment or questionable conduct in the workplace. Speculation that emerged in the wake of his resignation about possible harassment claims are “categorically and definitively untrue.”

Skipper said he had been in therapy during the past few months and that he is hoping to return to work in media.

“I think it will take the form of helping a few smart people; people I like and respect and who do things that matter,” he said of his next professional move.

Skipper’s departure came a time when ESPN is facing upheaval in its traditional linear TV business and undergoing a re-engineering process to transform its operations for the digital age, including the launch of the ESPN Plus OTT service later this year. Former Disney Interactive head James Pitaro was appointed last week as Skipper’s successor.

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