The Media Today

The media today: ESPN’s Skipper resigns, leaving a void in the media world

December 19, 2017

In a move that sent shock waves across the media universe, ESPN President John Skipper announced Monday morning that he was stepping down. “Today I have resigned from my duties as President of ESPN,” Skipper said in a statement. “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, 62, was promoted to his position at the beginning of 2012, and he signed a contract extension earlier this year. ESPN announced that former president and executive chairman George Bodenheimer will serve as acting chair of the company for the next 90 days. Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch, who has a must-read on the changes, writes that Skipper “pushed ESPN to become more diverse on air and online when it came to both gender and race.” Deitsch also notes that “Skipper was a major believer in ESPN’s journalism and the company would not have expanded Outside The Lines or funded its enterprise reporting without him.”

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After several years of declining subscriptions due to cord cutting, 2017 has been an annus horribilis for ESPN. The network has been targeted by the president and slammed by conservatives. It has faced sexual harassment allegations and been accused of failing to support one of its most visible African-American female anchors. It has courted controversy by pulling an announcer off of a game because of his name and airing, then quickly cancelling, Barstool Van Talk. Despite those issues, as well as two painful rounds of layoffs, Skipper recently stood in front of an all-hands talent meeting and said, “I want you to be confident about the future of ESPN.”

Skipper’s unexpected departure is especially shocking because he had been so visible recently. In addition to last week’s talent gathering, he appeared at ESPN’s coverage of college football’s Heisman Trophy presentation and spoke at the Sports Video Group Summit. He was also set to oversee ESPN’s reach expand with the addition of 22 regional sports networks acquired through Disney’s purchase of 21st Century Fox. His decision to step down to deal with his substance addiction leaves a huge hole at the top of both the sports and media worlds. As Deitsch writes, “you cannot overstate the shock this will be to the ESPN ecosystem.”

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Below, more on Skipper’s resignation and what it means for the Worldwide Leader.

  • Who’s next?: Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand says that ESPN has always looked within the company for its leadership. He taps Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing Justin Connolly as the frontrunner to fill Skipper’s seat.
  • A different job: Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw and Eben Novy-Williams list Connolly and EVP of content Connor Schell as likely replacements. They note that “whoever gets the top job will be taking over a much different ESPN than Skipper did, with a more constrained checkbook.”
  • A crucial time for the network: Recode’s Peter Kafka writes that after an awful year, “ESPN is both one of the most important properties in the media world and one whose clout and importance—once unquestioned—is very much up for debate.”
  • Newsroom reactions: Several current and former ESPN employees took to social media to voice support for Skipper. “John Skipper is one of the finest people I’ve ever worked for,” Jemele 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.”


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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.