Norby Williamson

The Norby Williamson era is over at ESPN.

Arguably one of the company’s most controversial and important executives, who spent almost four decades with the company, most recently as executive editor and head of event and studio production, Williamson’s exit was announced Friday by ESPN president (content) Burke Magnus.

While Williamson was involved in various controversies and dramas within the company over the years, it’s notable that his ouster comes just months after Pat McAfee called him out by name during an episode of The Pat McAfee Show. While it would be silly to claim that McAfee is the reason Williamson is gone, it could be seen as the smoke that signaled a fire just out of view. There’s been a true changing of the guard in the way ESPN operates, especially regarding its daily content choices, and it seems like the path forward did not include him.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the Pat McAfee episode,” former ESPN EVP Mark Shapiro told The Athletic. “Norby wasn’t fully aligned on the content vision Jimmy (Pitaro) and Burke had set. More than anything else after his incredible run, it was time to pass the torch.”

Given his impact on not only ESPN but the sports media industry as a whole, the end of the Norby Williamson Era garnered some very strong reactions from those in that world.

Certainly, the McAfee-Williamson connection inspired some assumptions that ESPN’s wunderkind was the reason for the move and celebrated his victory lap.

Rachel Nichols’ ESPN tenure ended unceremoniously in 2021 following a controversy surrounding leaked audio. We don’t know if Nichols’ X post was referencing anything to do with that, but she certainly made her feelings on Williamson clear.

Williamson was said to be behind the firing of ESPN talent Adnan Virk in 2019, prompting this reaction from The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch on his behalf.

As Front Office Sports noted, “The saying around ESPN was that if an atom bomb went off in Bristol, only cockroaches and Norby Williamson would survive.” Former ESPN PR executive Keri Potts seemed to confirm that sentiment.

Someone else who didn’t think the day would ever come was Jemele Hill, who was reported to be the focus of Williamson’s ire when she hosted SportsCenter and had a run-in with Donald Trump.

“My reaction is somewhere between an amused chuckle and ‘never thought I’d see the day,’” Hill told The Athletic. “I don’t know the circumstances behind his departure, but I guess it wasn’t a coincidence an earthquake hit New York City the same day this announcement was made.”

Lest you think it’s all dunking, Matthew Berry, who spent 15 years at ESPN, had some kind words for Williamson.

Norby also had a defender in Jason Whitlock, who called it a “sad day.”

Former SportsCenter anchor Keith Olbermann seemed to imply the ground beneath the northeast was shifting in part because of this seismic change.

Instead of commenting on Williamson, Bomani Jones used the opportunity to comment on the commenters.

Jim Miller, who literally wrote the book on ESPN, offered a poignant quote to sum up the entire situation.

We’ll add more reactions as we see them come in. Certainly, there is no shortage of opinions on Norby Williamson.

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.