Pat McAfee AJ Hawk Credit: The Pat McAfee Show on YouTube

Midway through The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday, news broke from the New York Post that host Pat McAfee paid its most famous guest Aaron Rodgers over seven figures over the years for joining the show weekly.

McAfee first confirmed he pays Rodgers (as he did in a direct quote in the Post article), including an initial $450,000 check after the first year Rodgers appeared. McAfee then responded to the report on-air in the digital-exclusive portion of the broadcast, confirming reporter Andrew Marchand’s intel and blasting Marchand as a “rat” who tried to make McAfee into a villain with the article.

“I appreciate the people that think they’re killing me right now for this,” McAfee said. “But if this is what I’m known for, I’m OK with it.

“With that being said, Andrew Marchand is a rat, ok? That is what he is. He tried to paint this in a way that makes me look like a bad person. And it’s like, you’re the bad person,” McAfee added.

“And hopefully other people will have to pay people for their time at some point as well. Sorry I’ve ruined your little gimmick of ‘you’re lucky to get to talk and make our lives a lot easier,’ if that’s what this is. But I am not embarrassed or ashamed of that at all. At all.”

There’s a lot to sort out here.

The show’s crew discussed the Marchand report coming out of an interview with Micah Parsons promoting his Bleacher Report podcast. They joked that Parsons was surely paid for his work before tossing out a similar comparison of Draymond Green being compensated for hosting a show on The Volume’s network.

Those are not the same as Rodgers doing a weekly hit.

Maybe McAfee sees them as one and the same, but the industry historically has not. Parsons and Green are paid because they host their shows full-time. People like Rodgers and Nick Saban are advertised largely as guests on PMS.

So while McAfee positioned his payment to his guests as a moral issue, the distinction matters. Especially with Rodgers.

The reason it is news that Rodgers is paid is actually not because of industry standards or norms. It matters because of what Rodgers says.

Rodgers frequently makes news for his views on the COVID-19 pandemic, including his own vaccine status and his anti-pharmaceutical industry beliefs. Similarly, Rodgers has promoted recreational hallucinogens like ayahuasca. This week, he half-jokingly offered to host Kelce on PMS for a debate about the COVID-19 vaccine.

It may come across as quaint or cute to have a problem with those conversations, but it comes with the Disney and ESPN territory. The worldwide leader is all-in on McAfee, and having a paid guest for the show frequently bringing controversy to the show and the network is a slippery slope.

Which brings us to Marchand.

Reporters make mistakes and operate with bias all the time, but in this McAfee taking issue with Marchand feels like a case of shooting the messenger. After all, Marchand reported what he was told by someone around PMS.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if that source was from the ESPN side. And if it was, that means at least some portion of ESPN staff is not pleased with how McAfee is operating. Perhaps that explains why McAfee was so defensive about the Rodgers news becoming public. The fact that McAfee was so incensed, and launched into such a lengthy rant, over a report about him sharing a piece of his wealth with his guests and friends was odd.

This all also begs the question of whether McAfee has changed his operating principles since joining ESPN. Does he still pay his guests out of pocket? Did ESPN absorb those payments? And are athletes and coaches the only ones getting paid? If McAfee is paying reporters to join his show, that presents another Pandora’s box for ESPN with regard to exclusivity, access, and contracts for his show and others.

Nobody would likely disagree with the spirit of McAfee compensating those who helped his show explode the past several years. But who those people are, how their payment is structured, and most importantly what they say in their paid spots — all that is certainly open for debate and could leave McAfee open to more criticism both inside and outside ESPN.

[The Pat McAfee Show on YouTube]

About Brendon Kleen

Brendon is a Media Commentary staff writer at Awful Announcing. He has also covered basketball and sports business at Front Office Sports, SB Nation, Uproxx and more.