Outside of those who work in sports media, before Monday, most people had no idea who John Skipper was.
That’s usually the deal with bigtime media executives, though. Everyone in the industry knows their faces, but the average person wouldn’t recognize them if he or she bumped into them on the street.
Sports media was supposed to be focused on the outcome of Sunday’s Patriots and Steelers game, but the game of the season in America’s most popular sport was overshadowed by the shocking announcement of ESPN’s former president resigning due to a substance abuse issue.
When I saw the headline on ESPN.com’s homepage, I literally screamed.
The news sent shockwaves through the industry as social media exploded.
Jemele Hill passionately defended her former boss against trolls.
Stan Verrett shared a story of how Skipper checked in on him after his father had passed away.
Dan Le Batard broke down in tears on live television.
For many at ESPN, Skipper was the man behind the scenes who was passionate about diversity and long-form and investigative journalism.
Labeling 2017 as a tumultuous year for ESPN would be an understatement. But when you add in the fact that its leader has walked away to deal with a situation of this magnitude, it justifies why ESPN might want to get 2017 over with as soon as possible.
But as 2018 is only days away, to keep everything in perspective you have to take a look back at everything that’s happened at ESPN over the last few years to fully understand why the Skipper news is such an abrupt end to a roller coaster ride that started in 2015.
Bill Simmons is considered by many to be the most popular sportswriter on Earth, and back in 2015, it was announced that ESPN would not be renewing his contract.
The year 2015 was also the year that Jason Whitlock was fired from ESPN. Whitlock had been brought back to run The Undefeated, ESPN’s site dedicated to race and sports, but after almost two years on the job without the site being launched, Whitlock was let go.
Many in the industry believe that ESPN overpaid for their NFL, NBA, and MLB TV deals, costing the company billions in money they didn’t need to spend. Add this to the fact that ESPN lost $1 billion in revenue after losing 13 million subscribers in just six years, and it leads you to the three rounds of layoffs that the company is still recuperating from. It started in 2015 with over 300 layoffs, and included 100 more in April, with approximately 150 more taking place just a few weeks ago.
The Jemele Hill situation also happened, as many, along with myself, felt as though the company did not have her back when she became the target of Donald Trump and the White House for simply stating the truth, and was later suspended for breaking the company’s social media policy.
Hill’s situation led to a company-wide mandatory meeting that took place Wednesday in Bristol, in which a new social media policy was overviewed.
By Thursday, ESPN had announced a new deal that is sure to change the landscape of sports coverage, as the “worldwide leader” acquired 22 regional sports network in a deal with 21st Century Fox, giving them the broadcasting rights for 44 NBA, NHL, and MLB teams.
But later in the day, another bombshell was dropped when the Boston Globe published a story that focused on Adrienne Lawrence, a former ESPN anchor, and her accusations about being sexually harassed and the culture that’s embedded inside ESPN.
By Friday, ESPN had released portions of a text message thread between Lawrence and longtime SportsCenter anchor John Buccigross, siding with Buccigross’ claim that no harm had been done.
And on Monday, Skipper was gone. Just a month earlier he had extended his contract which would have kept him in place through 2021.
Skipper decided to step away to do the right thing for himself and his family, and he should be applauded for it, especially doing it in such a public manner that could have a positive effect on others who are struggling with substance addiction.
ESPN, however, is in the midst of a very a pivotal moment. It has been the sole leader of sports media for decades, and as 2018 quickly approaches, it will enter the new year with way more questions than answers.
I have no idea how this is going to play out.
But I do know this: 2018 might be the most important year in ESPN’s history.
Send a Letter to the Editor
Carron J. Phillips