Credit: The Pat McAfee Show

We all know someone like Desmond Howard.

The friend who publically brings up that embarrassing memory you’d rather forget and then, when you flinch, tells you “Oh relax, it’s not a big deal.”

The co-worker who clowns your outfit in front of everyone and then says “I’m just joking.”

The person who says things like “Hey, I just tell it like it is.”

The kind of person who mistakes browbeating for camaraderie. The type of friend whose fragility shows itself through dominance and power plays. The associate who mistakes brutal honesty as courage when it’s just an excuse to be a dick.

Howard appeared on The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday and the time he called out GameDay co-worker Pete Thamel for not standing amongst Michigan fans during their visit to Ann Arbor. Thamel had been at the forefront of the reporting done around the football program’s sign-stealing scandal and had received threats over it.

“There was never a score to settle,” Howard said Thursday. “Everything is clickbait nowadays, and so people try to make something small out of something big. And that’s exactly what that was.”

“I thought it was funny. I thought it was hilarious personally, you know what I mean?”

McAfee, who works alongside Howard on the GameDay set, defended him, saying that he also believed it was just a joke

“I think Dez was talking **** and then like the way it went, especially with how Pete Thamel became public enemy number one for this entire thing, it got taken the other way,” McAfee said.

Let’s rewind to Nov. 25 when GameDay was in Ann Arbor and Howard made his offending comments.

Howard is speaking to his fellow GameDay analysts and host Rece Davis when he calls Thamel out, saying he should “put your big boy pants on and do it in the crowd like you have been doing” instead of reporting from the stadium.

Rece immediately tries to defend Thamel, saying that he’s heard from “the lunatic fringe,” implying that it might not be in his best interest to stand in a crowd of strangers without protection.

We can all make all our assessments, but it doesn’t feel like a joke when Howard says it. Thamel isn’t there to defend himself so it’s not like he’s commenting to his face. The audience for the comment seems to be the Michigan crowd, which Howard knows has a built-in reason to dislike Thamel. And there isn’t anything Thamel can do to rebut it because he’s not on set and he’s not on camera.

It feels like a classic joke” that is only a joke to the person telling it. Especially when you consider Howard made it pretty clear that the Michigan sign-stealing story bothered him personally and led to him calling out another ESPN co-worker in a way that certainly was not a joke. The topic didn’t appear to be funny to Howard, so it’s not clear why we should believe that he was joking here.

And Howard has a history of using this defense when he goes out-of-pocket and gets called out over it.

After the Michigan alum made a lame joke at the expense of Ohio State while standing near Buckeyes QB C.J. Stroud at the 2021 Heisman Trophy presentation, Howard also used the “it was just a joke” defense without taking into account whether or not anyone else on the stage appreciated his “humor.”

There was also the time Desmond tweeted “Go Blue!” in response to Chris Fowler’s tweet in support of Ukraine, whose flag’s colors are blue and yellow. After taking flak, Howard deleted the tweet and we can presume that he also felt his hilarious joke about a country under attack went over everyone’s heads.

A clear-cut instance where Howard failed to realize that his sense of humor was out of step with everyone around him came in 2019 when he responded to a question about whether or not Michigan could beat Ohio State that year by paraphrasing “Is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a *****?” His assumption that Rece Davis and Lee Corso were big Chappelle’s Show fans failed him and things got awkward fast.

It makes sense that Howard would find consensus on his Thamel comments with McAfee. Pat and his cohorts thrive in the “stop taking me so seriously” space (except when they want to be taken very seriously). McAfee swam in a similar space when he called out Washington State on GameDay earlier in the season when the school was fighting for its major college football existence. Behind closed doors, McAfee would probably say that Wazzu fans need to lighten up and that he was just “joking.”

There’s a fine line between a jokester and a bully, especially when you’re the one sitting up on the pulpit speaking down to someone who doesn’t also have a mic. And it’s much easier to say it’s all just a joke when you’re the one saying it.

Like Howard said, “I thought it was hilarious personally.” So at least one person got the joke.

[The Pat McAfee Show, BSM]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.