What already had been a trying year for ESPN took a shocking and personal turn on Monday when John Skipper, the president of the network, announced his resignation to address what he called “a substance addiction.”
Skipper, 61, is not as familiar to most fans as the personalities whom he employed, but he had been among the handful of most powerful people in sports since rising to the top job in 2012.
“I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction,” he said in a statement. “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.”
He later added, “I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.”
Skipper, an affable, folksy North Carolinian, generally was well liked at ESPN, but he recently has dealt with multiple challenges, including waves of layoffs. The network is losing subscribers as more people abandon traditional pay TV bundles, while the rights fees it pays for live sports are higher than ever.
ESPN has endured a series of other firestorms, including a Boston Globe story just last week in which current and former employees described a culture hostile to women.
ESPN also has gotten caught in the winds of the nation’s political discord, accused by some conservatives of having a liberal political bent when discussing social issues.
The news about Skipper came as a surprise to almost everyone at the company. Skipper signed a contract extension earlier this year and had continued to make public appearances. Just last week he led a summit of on-air talent in Bristol, Connecticut, to discuss matters such as the state of the company and its handling of social media and sexual harassment.
George Bodenheimer, ESPN’s president from 1998 to 2011, will be acting boss for 90 days.