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Pat McAfee accuses ESPN executive Norby Williamson of undermining ‘The Pat McAfee Show’

On Friday, Pat McAfee alleged that Norby Williamson, an executive at ESPN, is deliberately undermining his program “The Pat McAfee Show” by releasing inaccurate viewership data to the media.

“There are certain individuals within ESPN who are actively working to undermine us,” McAfee mentioned. “Specifically, Norby Williamson is the individual attempting to sabotage our show.”

McAfee claimed that someone attempted to preempt the release of the show’s December ratings by circulating false numbers 12 hours prior. He labeled this as “a deliberate attempt to undermine” and suggested that this has been ongoing throughout the season.

“It has been a recurring issue all through this season by some individuals who did not appreciate the addition of ‘The Pat McAfee Show’ to the ESPN lineup,” McAfee commented.

McAfee referred to Williamson as an “adversary from within our own ranks.” He accused Williamson of “leaving him waiting in his own office for 45 minutes” and “not showing up” to a meeting in 2018.

“This individual has shown zero respect towards me, and vice versa,” McAfee stated.

ESPN declined to provide any comment.

McAfee’s targeting of Williamson came after New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesday, claimed that late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel would appear in court documents related to a case against Jeffrey Epstein before his death. These documents contained names of more than 150 individuals which had previously been concealed in court filings. Kimmel’s name did not appear in any of these documents.

To commence Wednesday’s show, McAfee spoke on the issue. “We obviously detest being linked to anything negative. We aim for our show to be positive, joyful, and entertaining. However, because we discuss controversial topics and attempt to bring humor into everything, certain things understandably rile people up, especially when they are serious allegations,” he stated. “So we apologize for being involved in it. Looking forward to hearing Aaron’s perspective on this. Hopefully, they can resolve this without court involvement. Just have a conversation and move on.”

In May 2023, McAfee brought his show to ESPN as part of a multi-year agreement. The show began airing live on weekdays in September on ESPN, ESPN+ and ESPN’s YouTube channel. According to ESPN, the show garnered a 1.7 million total reach per broadcast across all platforms in December, marking a 21% increase from September.

Why is this particularly detrimental to ESPN?

If there’s one thing to understand about ESPN, it’s that internal conflicts within the network are often seen as the most severe transgressions by staff members.

Internal discord at ESPN is not unusual, as is the case for any large corporation with strong personalities and hefty paychecks. However, McAfee publicly calling out a prominent member of ESPN’s senior management on “The Pat McAfee Show” can be described as “an unprecedented move.” Despite the attention garnered by McAfee this week due to the Rodgers incident, it’s evident that ESPN was hoping the situation would blow over.

What happens next? We find ourselves in uncharted territory and ESPN is in a situation it disfavors: being at the center of attention over internal strife. Several former ESPN employees who had interactions with Williamson promptly shared their thoughts on Twitter, including Jemele Hill, who tweeted “I can relate.” It’s a messy situation.

Later, Hill forwarded this to The Athletic. “Internal conflict among the talent only leads to numerous complications and grudges, and when it becomes public, it tarnishes the perception that ESPN is a unified entity. It’s messy.” — Richard Deitsch, sports media writer

How will ESPN react?

Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN, and Burke Magnus, the president of content, have invested significantly in McAfee. They have faith in his abilities, granted his show creative freedom (McAfee’s staff are not ESPN employees; the show is licensed), and swiftly established him as one of the faces of the network, including a prominent role on GameDay (where, in my view, he has excelled). However, the management is now facing an unprecedented challenge with no prior precedent to guide them.

If they decide to suspend McAfee, it risks damaging the relationship. If they choose to take no action, it sends a message to other staff members that they can openly criticize the management. As of Friday night, some senior ESPN staff members were of the opinion that management will attempt to reconcile McAfee and Williamson. It remains to be seen if that is feasible. — Deitsch

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(Photo: Sam Hodde / Getty Images)

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