The ongoing ESPN drama surrounding star host Pat McAfee has become a mess for parent company Disney, but the House of Mouse has been silent as questions pile up.
The ordeal started last week when four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers suggested during an appearance on ESPN’s “The Pat McAfee Show” that ABC star Jimmy Kimmel was “really hoping” documents related to Jeffrey Epstein didn’t come out.
Since ESPN and ABC are both owned by Disney, the entire industry was stunned that Kimmel was criticized on the platform. Kimmel quickly threatened legal action and pushed back on any notion he was a pedophile or had any connection to the notorious Epstein, who died in 2019.
The New York Post then published a report, “Pat McAfee needs to produce better ratings to be worth $85 million — and headaches — for ESPN,” which pointed to the program’s under-performing ratings on linear TV.
The report noted that McAfee, who reportedly signed a five-year deal for $85 million, is attractive to ESPN because he brings in younger viewers, and has a massive YouTube audience, but the negative headline was enough to irk McAfee.
Later in the week, McAfee called out longtime ESPN executive Norby Williamson by name on the program’s streaming-only segment, accusing him of “sabotaging” the show from within by leaking the unflattering ratings data to the press. He also called Williamson a “rat,” and said a lot of people inside ESPN didn’t love the addition of “The Pat McAfee Show” to the ESPN family.
ESPN responded by saying “no one is more committed to and invested in ESPN’s success than Norby Williamson” and insisted it would handle the matter internally.
Over the weekend, McAfee shared a photo from an Indianapolis Colts game alongside Burke Magnus, who happens to be Williamson’s boss.
McAfee seemingly doubled down on Monday, joking that he didn’t think anyone would hear his remarks because they were on the YouTube and ESPN+ show, not linear TV. McAfee then told viewers he loved Magnus, Disney chairman Jimmy Pitaro and Disney CEO Bob Iger before suggesting “some old hags” at the network don’t like his program.
McAfee, who joined ESPN last year and is extremely well-liked by most colleagues, also co-hosts the iconic “College GameDay” and is already powerful enough that he’s allowed to use profanity on air. Kirk Herbstreit, who is one of ESPN’s biggest stars, has publicly said he would leave “College GameDay” if McAfee doesn’t return.
Disney did not immediately respond when asked if McAfee and Williamson – the executive senior vice president of studio and event production – have attempted to repair their relationship.
Some have speculated that the McAfee-Williamson feud was designed to take attention away from Rodgers and Kimmel. But OutKick’s Bobby Burack has written that ESPN hired McAfee “over Norby Williamson’s head,” and suggested Magnus and Pitaro made the decision.
“Sources within ESPN also say Williamson, an old-school television mind, doesn’t value McAfee’s worth to YouTube, where he averages 403,000 viewers a day,” Burack wrote.
McAfee’s public criticism of Williamson, one of the most tenured ESPN execs, resulted in multiple former ESPN personalities sharing similar experiences.
Former ESPN host Dan Le Batard offered his thoughts on Williamson.
“This isn’t just a vice president, this is the guy who has run [on] the wrong side of Stuart Scott and Dan Patrick,” LeBatard said on his podcast, mentioning a pair of ESPN legends.
“In general, this is not a bug, this is a feature. This is how you keep your talent controlled when you don’t want your talent misbehaving,” LeBatard continued before asking fellow ex-ESPN host Jemele Hill for her takeaway.
“We experienced a lot of what Pat McAfee was talking about,” Hill said. “That is the part I can certainly relate to.”
EX-ESPN and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann said he’s “had running, pitched battles with Norby off and on since 1992” but admitted he’s “a pro with ethics.”
On Tuesday, yet another ESPN executive was called out by name on “The Pat McAfee Show.”
ESPN senior vice president of production Mike Foss previously said, “Aaron [Rodgers] made a dumb and factually inaccurate joke about Jimmy Kimmel. It should never have happened. We all realized that in the moment,” when attempting to clean up the mess that started all the infighting.
Rodgers returned to “The Pat McAfee Show” for his weekly segment and made it clear he didn’t appreciate Foss chiming in.
“I don’t understand… a Mike Foss comment because he didn’t help out either,” Rodgers said. “Mike, you’re not helping… I feel like I made a statement about not wanting to be on a list to come out … ‘We realized that in the moment?’ What are you talking about?”
Disney and ESPN were publicly mum about a guest criticizing Foss, but McAfee opened his program the following day by announcing Rodgers had made his final appearance of the season.
Rodgers, who also made polarizing comments related to the COVID vaccine on the Disney-owned program, seemingly said enough for even the outspoken McAfee.
“There will be a lot of people who are happy with that, myself included to be honest with you,” McAfee said. “The way it ended, it got really loud. I am happy that he’s not going to be in my mentions going forward, which is great news.”
ESPN did not immediately respond when asked if this was planned, but the New York Post reported “Rodgers was originally scheduled to appear throughout the playoffs.”
Throughout the entire ordeal, parent company Disney has been silent.
Disney did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report. OutKick and Fox News share common ownership.