Eleven days ago ESPN announced its president John Skipper was resigning due to "substance abuse issues."
The bombshell statement released by ESPN and John Skipper cited substance abuse issues as the reason for his "resignation." Here is that statement from John Skipper:
“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.
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 (Iger) displayed here and always.
I come to this public disclosure with embarrassment, trepidation and a feeling of having let others I care about down.
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.”
In my article about the resignation, I pointed out that it made no sense and was corporate bullshit designed to cover something else up.
After all, Disney couldn't even legally force someone to step down with substance abuse issues. That's an illness. And like all illnesses people with illnesses deserve the right to get healthy instead of being kicked to the curb. What's more, Disney had just provided a six month leave to Pixar president John Lasseter.
So the story never made any sense.
In fact, immediately upon this story breaking many in sports, business and media reached out to Outkick to say this statement wasn't true. Dozens of people talked about being out with John Skipper in social situations all over the country and how they'd never seen him under the influence of any drug or alcohol. I know, I know addicts can hide their addiction, so maybe he was just particularly adept at it.
But Outkick also talked with multiple people who were scheduled to meet with John Skipper the same week he abruptly announced his resignation from ESPN. Why, they all asked, would a guy be scheduling meetings if he knew he was going to be resigning the same week as his meetings?
No, this all happened very abruptly and unexpectedly.
Remember, Skipper addressed all of ESPN five days before he resigned and bragged about ESPN's future to all of the talent arrayed before him then. Four days before he resigned Disney announced the acquisition of over twenty Fox Sports regional cable networks. Skipper even received a new multi-year contract extension less than a month ago, an event that was much ballyhooed in the media. How did all of that mesh with the decision to resign on the Monday of a holiday week. (Seriously, ESPN couldn't even wait until the Friday before Christmas to announce this?)
The truth was the news made no sense.
And that's because it wasn't the truth.
In the next couple of days I was told by multiple sources I trust inside ESPN that the reason for Skipper's "resignation" was because of sexual harassment issues inside the company. In the wake of the Boston Globe story about sexual harassment I was told Skipper's own issues suddenly emerged and that was why the resignation happened so abruptly.
And ESPN decided to blame substance abuse issues instead.
I had that story, but you know what?
I actually decided not to write that story just before Christmas because I felt like it was spiking the football on ESPN and John Skipper. Outkick has so dominated ESPN over the past year that I felt like I should just hand the football to the official after we scored yet another touchdown.
Not writing this story was my holiday gift to ESPN. Of course they didn't even know how nice I was being to them, but that happens frequently. I've had a ton of ESPN people I could have buried over the years and most of the time I haven't. Because I generally don't go after personal foibles.
Plus, many, such as Dan LeBatard, who I like and think is very talented in writing, radio and TV, really like Skipper personally. Hell, I might too, I've never had any personal animus for him or ever met him, I just think he makes bad business decisions and has been telling lies about me.
Indeed, LeBatard was so stunned by the news of Skipper's resignation that he broke down in tears on radio as he heard the news.
So you can imagine my reaction when I sat down this evening to watch USC-Ohio State and an Outkick tipster sent me the following two photographs of Dan LeBatard and John Skipper out at a North Carolina bar having martinis together. (My source, who requested anonymity but I know personally, took the photos tonight and later confirmed with the bartender, that both Skipper and LeBatard had ordered and consumed martinis -- Beefeater Gin was the alcohol to be exact -- at the bar.)
You can see the photos from inside the bar yourself here. (According to our tipster LeBatard is in a Made in Miami hat and Skipper is the grey haired man beside the martini glass at the bar.)
Skipper is from North Carolina and my assumption is that LeBatard traveled up there to meet with his friend in the wake of his resignation.
A trip out to have a couple of drinks with your friend would all be perfectly normal and a total non-story except for the fact that Skipper just resigned from ESPN 11 days ago citing his struggles with substance addiction and his desire to get help for that addiction.
Now maybe Skipper wasn't addicted to alcohol -- and it was some other drug instead -- but if you have such an issue with substance addiction that you need to immediately resign from ESPN should you really be out drinking 11 days later with one of the most prominent employees at your former company? And if you're Skipper's good friend, Dan LeBatard, would you let your friend go out drinking with you if you knew he had a true issue with substance abuse and you were crying about it on your radio show 11 days ago?
That seems highly unlikely.
No, the likely truth here is this -- ESPN lied about John Skipper's substance addiction to cover up the real reason he was being fired and Skipper isn't even bothering to hide the fact that his excuse was a lie by still going out drinking in public.
ESPN using substance abuse as an excuse is indefensible because substance abuse is a very serious issue for millions of Americans. Using it an excuse to cover up sexual harassment issues in the company is flat out inexcusable and it takes advantage of the American public and the media's natural respect for privacy surrounding substance addiction issues. The very privacy that Skipper himself requested as he dealt with his issues.
But, sadly, it's par for the course at ESPN, a company that specializes in lies.
Now I'm sure the usual litany of ESPN excuses will follow -- Skipper was just sitting at the bar beside the martini glass, he wasn't actually drinking it, we may even get a Shaggy style, "it wasn't me!" -- but my source stands by his identification of both. And his photos. So unless Dan LeBatard traveled to North Carolina to go out and have drinks with a John Skipper doppelganger, the lesson to ESPN should be as follows -- don't lie to the country. And if you are going to lie to the country, don't go out drinking anywhere in the South.
Because Outkick's readers will find you.