Most ESPN employees discovered the resignation of the company's president, John Skipper, at the same time as the public.
"It's the biggest shit I've ever experienced except one death," said a veteran ESPN employee.
"Without words," said another, who works on NFL programming.
"We're all stunned," said another ESPN member who works at SportsCenter. "He just signed a new contract, he just gave us this rah-rah speech at the mandatory meeting, nobody knows what to think."
At 11:00 a.m. ET Monday, ESPN announced that Skipper, 61, had resigned his position, citing a problem of substance addiction. In a statement, Bob Iger, president and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, said that former ESPN president and CEO George Bodenheimer (who worked on ESPN from 1981 to 2014) will serve as interim president of the company for the next 90 years. days, supervising the transition process. Then, Iger will presumably appoint a full-time president.
"With his departure, George Bodenheimer agreed to serve as interim president of ESPN for the next 90 days to provide interim leadership, help me identify and secure John's successor, and ensure a smooth transition," Iger said in a statement. "I am grateful for George's support and look forward to working with him again in this temporary role."
"I have great respect for John's leadership, and I applaud the courage he is demonstrating in meeting his challenge," Bodenheimer said. in a sentence. "The most important thing at this moment for John and his family is that he conquers his addiction, and the entire ESPN family is behind him, I have kept in close contact with John, and I believe in the direction in which he is taking ESPN. He has formed an outstanding leadership team, many of whom I know very well, and I am very confident that we will work together effectively to advance ESPN during this transition. "
Plans to address all personnel are still in progress, an ESPN spokesman said. An ESPN spokesman also said he did not know the nature of the addiction, nor was any staff member told about this piece. Skipper became president of ESPN and co-president of Disney Media Networks on January 1, 2012.
ESPN employees received an email from Skipper at 11:02 a.m. ET, followed by the official statement of the company.
" I would like to share a statement I am issuing today, as well as one by Bob Iger ," Skipper employees by email. " It has been an absolute privilege for me to serve as President of ESPN Sincerely, John.
" & # 39; Today I have given up my duties as President of ESPN. I have had a wonderful career at The Walt Disney Company and I am grateful for the many opportunities and friendships. I owe a debt to many, but more deeply to 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 now is to take care of my problem. I have disclosed that decision to the company, and we mutually agreed that it was appropriate for us to resign. I will always appreciate the human understanding and warmth that Bob showed here and always. I come to this public disclosure with shame, fear and the feeling of having let others care. As I discuss this topic and what it means to me and my family, I request appropriate privacy and a little understanding. For my colleagues at ESPN, it has been a privilege. I take pride in his achievements and I have full confidence in his collective ability to continue the success of ESPN. ""
Skipper called a handful of top managers this morning to inform them of their decision before going public, they said the sources . The time of the resignation will be understandably questioned based on the news of the last months. In countless cases, employees who cite addiction problems have taken leaves of absence, instead of taking the permanent step of resignation.
Skepticism is fair. Skipper signed a three-year contract extension with ESPN last month. But more than that, ESPN recently changed its external strategy to get Skipper to move to the front and center to push its brand message after a annus horribilis for ESPN employees. Skipper announced in November that approximately 150 employees had lost their jobs in positions throughout the company, including producers, executives, and technology and digital staff. That followed the layoffs of about 100 frontline officials last April, including many well-known names in sports journalism. The network has dealt with controversy after controversy, some of them self-inflicted, others beyond their control. In recent weeks, the company had made it clear that Skipper was going to be the key person in an attempt to change the narrative. Skipper has asked for privacy. But, as a captain of the media, you are likely to know as well as anyone that this announcement – and your curious moment – will spur additional reporting and follow-up.
Last week, Skipper spoke with nearly 500 analysts, commentators, play-by-play voices, journalists and writers in Bristol, Connecticut, on what the network labeled "Talent Gathering 2017". There, he addressed the company's front talent (that is, those that are presented to the public through audio, digital or television) on topics such as current ESPN priorities, recent changes in the company's social media policy. company, how editorial and political issues should be handled by the editors, how the company addresses the allegations of sexual harassment and upcoming initiatives.
"The intention was for him to start being more visible and to combat some of the narrative there is," said one staff member.
The impact this will have on the ESPN ecosystem can not be overemphasized. Skipper's background was in the content, he was the executive vice president of content for the company from 2005 to 2012, and he had deep relationships with talent. He particularly pressured ESPN to be more diverse on the air and online when it came to gender and race. The promotions of Doris Burke, Jessica Mendoza, Beth Mowins, Sam Ponder and Jemele Hill (as author) in positions traditionally occupied by men happened as a direct result of Skipper's initiatives. The same with the foundation of The Undefeated, a website in the nexus of race and sports. Skipper was a big believer in ESPN journalism and the company would not have expanded Outside The Lines nor would he have financed his business reports without him. He joined ESPN in June 1997 as senior vice president and general manager of ESPN The Magazine and quickly moved up the corporate ladder. His departure comes just as Disney announced last week that it had purchased 22 regional 21st Century Fox sports networks.
On Monday, Twitter was quickly filled with company employees who responded to the news.
"John Skipper is one of the best people I've ever worked for," Hill said. "He's been incredibly understanding throughout my career on ESPN, this is not talking about the company, I really can not express how much respect I have for him."
"Surprised and saddened to lose our leader, who always did time for me and made sure my voice was heard, "SportsCenter hostess Lisa Kerney tweeted. "A man that I really respect and admire in this industry and as a person, I always enjoyed speaking hoops, the best thing for John and his family while sailing in this difficult moment"