As it nears the launch of its direct-to-consumer sports product early net year, sports juggernaut ESPN said long-time president John Skipper is resigning to seek treatment for a “substance addiction,” and will be replaced in the interim by former network chief George Bodenheimer.
The news comes days after ESPN parent The Walt Disney Co. announced a $66.1 billion deal to purchase sports and entertainment assets worth about $66.1 billion from 21st Century Fox.
"Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN," Skipper said in a statement. "I have had a wonderful career at the Walt Disney Company and am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but most profoundly Michael Lynton, George Bodenheimer and Bob Iger.
"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,” Skipper continued.
Skipper, 61, joined ESPN in 1997 as senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine. He was named to his current job on Jan. 1, 2012.
Skipper said in the statement that he has spoken to Disney management and they mutually agreed that it would be appropriate that he resign.
"I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down,” he said in the statement. "As I deal with this issue and what it means to me and my family, I ask for appropriate privacy and a little understanding. To my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take great pride in your accomplishments and have complete confidence in your collective ability to continue ESPN's success."
Bodenheimer, 59, was ESPN chief from 1998 until he retired in 2011. He has agreed to serve as acting chair of the network as the search for a permanent successor to Skipper continues.
"I have great respect for John's leadersip and I applaud the courage he's demonstrating by addressing is challenge head on," Bodenheimer said in a statement. "The most important thing right now for John and his family is that he conquers his additction, and the entire ESPN family is behind him. 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 news is especially shocking in that Skipper had just extended his employment deal with ESPN for three years in November.
"I join John Skipper's many friends and colleagues across the company in wishing him well during this challenging time," Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said in a statement. "I respect his candor and support his decision to focus on his health and his family."