The dust-up centers on Pat McAfee, an N.F.L. punter turned shock jock, whom ESPN poached last year from the betting company FanDuel in a deal reportedly worth $85 million. (A personal pitch from Bob Iger, Disney’s C.E.O., apparently helped seal the deal.)
But McAfee occupies an unusual perch at ESPN: He is both an employee who appears on college football and N.F.L. shows and, when it comes to his own daily show, a contractor. That means the network has less control over him, The Times’s Kevin Draper reports.
What happened: First, Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets quarterback who frequently appears on McAfee’s show, implied that the late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel — one of the biggest stars at the Disney-owned ABC — had ties to Jeffrey Epstein. (Kimmel, whose name didn’t emerge from recently unsealed court records related to the late sex offender, has threatened to sue Rodgers.)
After The New York Post published unflattering ratings data for McAfee’s show, the host then accused Norby Williamson, a senior ESPN executive, of leaking the information. McAfee called Williamson, long known as the network’s internal talent disciplinarian, a “rat.”
McAfee represents a dilemma for Disney. His public squabbling with colleagues was highly unusual, as was letting Rodgers impugn another ABC star. “There’s “no more offensive crime” at the network than “talent-on-talent” crime, said Jemele Hill, a former ESPN star. (McAfee has apologized for the episode with Rodgers, and the quarterback, who later said he was joking, won’t appear on the show for the remainder of the N.F.L. season.)