Who Is John Skipper? ESPN President Resigns, Citing Substance Abuse

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Former President of ESPN John Skipper speaks during the George Bodenheimer Book Party at Hearst Tower on June 2, 2015 in New York City. Anna Webber/Getty Images for Hearst Corporation

ESPN lost its leader Monday when President John Skipper announced he was stepping down.

"I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction," Skipper 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."

"I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob displayed here and always," the statement continued, referring to Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, ESPN's parent company. "I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down."

In the wake of Skipper's resignation, George Bodenheimer will step in for the next three months as acting chairman, Disney announced.

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

Bodenheimer has worked with ESPN for more than three decades. He served as president from 1998 through 2011 before becoming executive chairman. In a statement, Bodenheimer wished Skipper well and said his recovery from addiction was what mattered most.

"I've stayed in close contact with John, and I believe in the direction he's taking ESPN," Bodenheimer said. "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."

Skipper, 61, joined ESPN in 1997 with the title of senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. He was widely seen as a tastemaker who helped ramp up the journalism produced by the network. But ESPN has had troubles recently—including multiple rounds of layoffs—amid changes in viewership habits.

Sports Illustrated media reporter Richard Deitsch‏ posted to Twitter that an anonymous staffer texted him, "Nobody know [sic] anything. There is a lot of reckless speculation out there."

But James Andrew Miller, a journalist who has long-covered ESPN and literally wrote the book on the "worldwide leader in sports," tweeted that a senior executive at the network told him, "This is about addiction. Nothing else."

A number of longtime ESPN employees, including Jemele Hill, LZ Granderson and Stan Verrett, posted notes of affection about Skipper to Twitter.

"John Skipper is one of the finest people I've ever worked for," Hill wrote. "He's been incredibly supportive throughout my career at ESPN. This isn't company-speak. I seriously cannot express how much respect I have for him."

Skipper had signed a contract extension this year that kept him at ESPN through 2021.

Whoever takes over Skipper's role at ESPN will have an interesting challenge ahead of them. Disney is fresh off purchasing 21st Century Fox for more than $50 billion, a deal that still needs to be approved by federal regulators, while ESPN faces an uncertain future with folks changing how they watch sports.

Who Is John Skipper? ESPN President Resigns, Citing Substance Abuse | Culture