By Jordan Valinsky, CNN
New York (CNN) — Pat McAfee, the ESPN host currently embroiled in a feud with an executive for alleged “sabotage,” said Monday that his relationship with the network is “strong” and that he doesn’t regret any of his comments.
“There are some people actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN,” McAfee said on Friday. “More specifically, I believe Norby Williamson is the guy who is attempting to sabotage our program.”
He continued his ire on Monday, but didn’t specifically mention Williamson’s name when the topic was brought up on his daily, three-hour-long talk show.
“There was some comments about a particular person at ESPN that I only made on the YouTube and ESPN+ show. It wasn’t on linear TV,” McAfee said about the 2pm ET hour that doesn’t air on ESPN’s cable network where he talked about Williamson last week. “I didn’t know anyone was going to hear it.”
McAfee continued that his remarks were a “topic of discussion” over the weekend and the only thing he was “super bummed out about” was that ESPN’s president of content Burke Magnus, who oversees the studio shows, “was made to look bad because of what I did and how I did it.”
McAfee went on to say he “loved” a number of ESPN executives, including Magnus, chairman Jimmy Pitaro and Disney CEO Bob Iger.
“But there’s quite a transition era here between the old and the new,” McAfee said about the 44-year-old sports network. He said the “old don’t like” the new, likely in reference to Williamson, who has been with ESPN since 1985. McAfee joined ESPN less than a year ago.
“Now there’s certainly people that we don’t like and they don’t like us,” McAfee said, without naming one in particular. “That’s how it’s going to be and I don’t take back anything I said about ‘said person,’ but the overall storyline about us and ESPN … is that we’re strong, baby.”
Some see McAfee as a bit of a loose cannon who has been allowed to curse and veer into strongly opinionated areas from which other ESPN hosts and guests are generally barred.
He recently found himself in the middle of a firestorm when guest Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets quarterback who has shared various conspiracy theories in the past, suggested that late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s name might appear on the list that has been released over the course of the past week related to associates of Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in jail while awaiting federal sex-trafficking charges in 2019. Kimmel had criticized Rodgers in years past for his views and behavior on coronavirus vaccines.
Last Thursday, The New York Post noted that McAfee’s TV ratings are lower than his lead-in, suggesting the rating are perhaps not high enough to justify the $85 million contract the Post reported ESPN has paid him to air his show. Although the report didn’t cite any unnamed sources, McAfee said on his show Friday he believed Williamson was behind the report and others in the media.
McAfee said Williamson was “the only human that has that information — and then somehow that information gets leaked, and it’s wrong, and then it sets a narrative of what our show is.”
ESPN defended Williamson last week.
“No one is more committed to and invested in ESPN’s success than Norby Williamson,” an ESPN spokesperson said in a statement. “At the same time, we are thrilled with the multi-platform success that we have seen from the ‘Pat McAfee Show’ across ESPN. We will handle this matter internally and have no further comment.”
McAfee confessed that he doesn’t like Williamson, personally.
“That guy left me in his office for 45 minutes — no-showed me — in 2018,” McAfee said Friday. “So this guy had zero respect for me and in return: same thing back to him.”
McAfee routinely says on his show that he is just trying to have fun and talk sports, adding levity to people’s lives. But ESPN is part of Disney, a media behemoth and that typically comes with a host of rules and journalistic expectations associated with it, including the expectation of fact-checking and issuing corrections for inaccuracies.
But McAfee rarely does that. He lets his guests talk, unchecked, for long stretches, even when they make outrageous claims. And his show comes with a crawl that notes it is a free-flowing, often comedic conversation that does not necessarily reflect ESPN’s opinions, adding, “Don’t sue us” at the end of the repeating message.
McAfee said he feels unfairly treated.
“We have good intentions, every single time we come in here,” McAfee said Friday. “We don’t always get it right. But m*therf**kers been getting it wrong for a long time, in this specific field – a long time.”
CNN’s Oliver Darcy and David Goldman contributed to this report.
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