Between Get Up, First Take, and radio, Jay Williams’ platform at ESPN has grown immensely over the years, but the clock may be ticking on his tenure.
Williams joined the latest episode of Pat Beverley’s Barstool Sports podcast The Pat Bev Podcast with Rone, and near the top of the interview, he was asked about his future at ESPN. According to Beverley, who spent some time on ESPN last year, Williams deserves to be at a place where he’s considered a top talent. “How do you feel about your status at ESPN?” Beverley asked.
“My contract is up in three months, man,” Williams said before asking if Beverley was officially recruiting him. “This is part of the problem. You can never be your f***ing self…I don’t care if you’re Stephen A. Smith, I don’t care if you’re my boy Alan Hahn or Max Kellerman, we can sit up here and do the tit-for-tat, play the innuendos, let me give you a tease, we can do all that. I get how the media industry works and I get how those are cliffhangers in which social media feeds on and articles feed on. It feels like media cannibalizing media right now, and I get how that game is played, but sometimes that game gets boring to me.”
Asked to describe his ideal optimization of a media talent, Williams said, “this,” referring to Beverley’s podcast and the more relaxed nature of podcasts in general. Williams similarly hosted his own interview podcast for NPR, but there hasn’t been a new episode since last December.
“What’s the new age Ernie Johnson?” Williams asked. “Business oriented, but can kick it with anybody,” noting he wants to build enterprise with active athletes and “the people who can tell the story from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in.”
“How you create an environment in which everybody…can just be themselves authentically and not feel like you have to give a take on something,” Williams continued. “Not everything requires some kind of polarizing point of view.”
“I think the future of sports media are paradigms in which these types of moments of comfort are incubated and then scaled. Because this is media. This is what media always should have been.”
Williams co-hosts a national morning radio show with Max Kellerman and Keyshawn Johnson. He’s a frequent contributor to Get Up and has no issues sparring with Stephen A. Smith on First Take. There’s no doubt Williams is appreciated at ESPN, but he’s not in the same category as Smith, Mike Greenberg or Pat McAfee, and his contract probably reflects that.
On this podcast with Beverley, however, Williams didn’t sound like a person just looking for a new contract, he sounds like someone who might be ready to lessen the need to give daily hot takes. His platform is big on ESPN Radio, Get Up, and First Take, but those shows don’t necessarily prioritize incubating “moments of comfort.”
Williams’ looming free agency also lines up perfectly with Shannon Sharpe departing as Skip Bayless’s daily debate partner on FS1, a position he’d seemingly fit well in. But again, Bayless isn’t looking for a relaxed conversation or Ernie Johnson type of personality. Maybe Williams hinting that he wants to do something different in media is a negotiation tactic. Or maybe his vision will ultimately align with ESPN and the former NBA point guard will continue hosting his radio show and sparring with Stephen A. Smith in the fall. But ESPN has yet to portray believing relaxed, comfortable conversations is the way of their future.