Pat McAfee Stephen A. Smith Pat McAfee and Stephen A. Smith

Just last month, Stephen A. Smith made it clear that there isn’t a bigger fan of Pat McAfee’s at ESPN than himself.

The behind the scenes relationship between ESPN’s two biggest stars, however, appears to tell a different story.

According to Ryan Glasspiegel of the New York Post, McAfee and Smith were recently involved in an “explosive” argument, with the former All-Pro punter calling the First Take host a “motherf***er.” Per Glasspiegel, the dispute stemmed from creative differences regarding a yet-to-be-announced project of Smith’s, which will be produced by his production company and air on ESPN.

It’s not exactly clear from the Post what element of the project McAfee and Smith didn’t agree on, why McAfee would be involved in Smith’s production in the first place, or why things escalated so severely.

The argument occurred several weeks ago, with The Post initially hearing that Smith had banned McAfee from future appearances on First Take. Reached by The Post, both McAfee and Smith denied that such a ban is in place and downplayed any bad blood between each other.

“I have nothing but love for Stephen A.,” McAfee told The Post via text message. “I think I’m still welcome on First Take? I was scheduled through football season to join on Tuesdays, hopefully next year that’ll happen as well.”

“Pat McAfee and I have no issue and the notion that he’d be banned from First Take is B.S,” Smith told The Post via email. “We are No.1 and he has absolutely contributed to us remaining No.1. McAfee was asked to come on each Tuesday through the Super Bowl and he did just that, kicking ass each time he came on the air.”

Smith added: “If McAfee wants to be on First Take next season, he will be on First Take. I love winners and McAFee has proven he wins  — which helps ME win. I don’t know how many times I have to tell folks that he’s trail-blazed a path into a new era for so many of us. I’m grateful to have him as a part of my team and the ESPN Family. And I’m looking forward to having him on for years to come. I sincerely hope that I will not have to repeat myself on this nonsense again!”

Regardless of whether McAfee remains welcome on First Take, the apparent dispute between two of ESPN’s most prominent figures is certainly notable. To this point in McAfee’s brief tenure at ESPN, he and Smith have appeared to be nothing but friendly, with the host of The Pat McAfee Show making regular appearances on First Take and vice versa.

But with Smith’s contract at the Worldwide Leader set to expire in 2025, he has made no secret about his desire to become ESPN’s highest paid talent — a market set by McAfee’s five-year, $85 million deal to lease The Pat McAfee Show. That the reported argument stemmed over a project that will be produced by Smith but air on ESPN certainly hints that he could be in line for a similar type of contract structure, as he hasn’t been shy about comparing his level of power and influence at the company to McAfee’s.

“The more successful they are, the more successful I become,” Smith said of McAfee last month. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again many, many times over. Hell, whether he believes it or not, I don’t really know. We’ve never really talked about it. I can tell you this for a fact: One of the greatest things that ever happened to somebody in my position is Pat McAfee and his show coming to ESPN and them getting paid. Because you set the market.

“Some people will say that and they’ll call that ‘pocket watching.’ You’re damn right. We all do. But it’s not to lament what somebody else is earning. It’s to applaud them and thank them for what they’re earning, because our turn comes. And I’m not apologizing for that to anybody.”

[New York Post]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.