Mark J. Rebilas-USA Today

James Andrew Miller questions John Skipper’s reason for ESPN departure

Lucy Burdge
January 02, 2018 - 12:38 pm

In a column for the Hollywood Reporter on Tuesday, James Andrew Miller speculated as to why John Skipper really left his post at ESPN, as he doesn’t believe the real story adds up.

Miller, author of ESPN book Those Guys Have All the Fun, questions the substance addiction reason given for Skipper’s abrupt resignation. He posits this could be a cover and Skipper might have been pushed out in a business power-play.

“Yet since the bombshell announcement, not a single story has materialized that offers a more plausible explanation that goes beyond the original, mercurial Skipper statement (and that’s with just a few million investigative reporters trying to track one down). Now, some Skipper supporters are beginning to believe his departure was only about a drug problem. Maybe in this case, a cigar really is just a cigar," Miller writes. "Well, as much as I’d like to join them in believing that, I’m sorry, but I just can’t. What if instead of jumping, John Skipper was pushed — and not because of any sordid story desperately being kept secret? What if the critical word in his statement wasn’t “addiction,” but rather that his departure was “mutual"? What if this was, in a manner of speaking, a Mickey Mouse operation?”

Miller points out Skipper’s ESPN contract was extended last year and Skipper’s resignation letter referred to his addiction battle as one of “many years.”

“Are we supposed to believe that after such a long time, it got so suddenly and significantly worse after he agreed to re-up to the point where he had to go through such a public bloodletting? Wouldn’t the prudent move have been to not re-up and take care of his problems privately?,” Miller writes.

Miller said Skipper sat down with him for an interview for his Origins podcast late last year and the last time they communicated about it was on Dec. 14, just days before Skipper announced his resignation on Dec. 18.

“We continued to talk about it and in early December he told me he was going to be able to do the interview and we just needed to focus on more specific timing,” Miller writes. “When was our last communication about such timing for the interview to take place? Dec. 14 — the day after his speech in Bristol and the day before sources indicate the decision was made to announce his resignation 72 hours later.”

Miller also speculates Skipper’s refusal to have Jimmy Pitaro jump to ESPN from Disney could have been a factor in a possible power-play.

“If Skipper was contemplating an exit, the smart and easy path was to have simply said yes to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s invitation/urging to bring over to ESPN one of Iger’s most trusted lieutenants, Jimmy Pitaro, currently chairman of Disney's products division. Going back a couple of years, this reporter learned that Iger had offered up Pitaro’s services to Skipper on several occasions to shore up what some in Burbank considered a less-than-stellar senior management team in Bristol, or at least one that didn’t have Skipper’s successor in its ranks.

But Skipper, in his most audacious move as president of ESPN, gave a Southern, polite “No thanks" to his boss and to the prospect of a Pitaro transfer, explaining that he thought the move would disrupt the ESPN culture and that Pitaro’s services were not needed. A more cynical view was that he didn’t want to have a clear successor in place, thereby guaranteeing his own longevity. Or so he thought.

How can one further defend the idea that Skipper didn’t leave ESPN voluntarily? What if it’s as simple as he was no longer wanted? In late November, John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, was given a six-month “sabbatical” to deal with his issues, care of the very same corporate parent. Even if Skipper had done drugs in a Disney bathroom, if he was regarded as the right leader for ESPN, you get the guy immediate help and tell him not to worry about his job because it will be waiting for him. Even if he says he wants to quit, you try and talk him out of it. Alcohol and drug treatment facilities are veritable stomping grounds for corporate leaders on leave.”

Skipper’s reason for resigning was also called into question on Friday night when he was photographed reportedly having drinks at a bar with Dan Le Batard. 

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