Pat McAfee, Rece Davis, and AJ Hawk on The Pat McAfee Show. Pat McAfee, Rece Davis, and AJ Hawk on The Pat McAfee Show. (@PatMcAfeeShow on Twitter/X.)

A day after setting a fair bit of the world ablaze with his on-air “risk-free investment” line on ESPN Bet gambling analyst Erin K. Dolan’s Northwestern under pick, Rece Davis showed up on The Pat McAfee Show to talk about that. And he made it quite clear that he didn’t apologize for his remarks, calling it a “throwaway line” and saying “I clarified.” Davis’ comments start around 1:25 in the clip below, coming after McAfee introduced the situation:

“I don’t want to make this a big deal. It was just a small segment, it was a throwaway line. Any reasonable person knew I was being facetious, because there’s nothing in life that comes without risk, especially gambling. That’s obvious for anyone who knows anything.

“But I didn’t apologize. I clarified. And I don’t think that anybody thought we were really handing out free money. But maybe it’s a better course of action, in the future, I’ll go with the old David Letterman line of ‘This is an exhibition, not a competition, so please, no wagering.’ Maybe that’s the way we’ll go from now on.”

McAfee then brought up different state-by-state rules and regulations, including what he’s gone through with his past FanDuel sponsorship and “what you’re allowed to say, what you’re not allowed to say, there are some of these regulators that are going to hold everything against you.” He then said “The way you phrase things is a massive piece of a lot of the conversations about how you can market and how you can advertise.” Davis then said some notable things in response:

“Obviously, I wasn’t thinking about all that. What we were really talking about is I asked, I think, in the break, we had the other guy, Joe Fortenbaugh, on the day before. And I asked ‘Well, how did those picks that he did yesterday, how did they do?’ And they said ‘They were both right, they both won.’ So I said ‘Oh, hey, 2-0,’ and I was joking with Erin, ‘You’ve got a bit of a high bar to live up to there, because he hit both of his. What have you got for us?’ …I was just being facetious, everyone should understand that. It wasn’t an endorsement or an advertisement for gambling. Whatever you do, whether it’s gambling or drinking or investing or pursuing your career, let’s all do so wisely and responsibly and act like grown people.”

The problem here is that while Davis’ argument has some “common sense” merits, there is much more specific regulation around gambling promotion (as McAfee discusses in detail in that second clip). Yes, the majority of people are not going to take Davis’ “risk-free investment” comment literally. But, as McAfee says here, regulators have cracked down significantly on specific language of this kind recently.

And that’s part of what led to so much backlash for Davis on this. And beyond that, as Dustin Gouker noted in a freelance column for AA Monday, the regulated sports gambling world absolutely does not need this kind of discussion right now amidst a lot of other gambling stories that have many skeptical of any sort of sports betting.

Regardless of his intentions, or how the majority of people perceived his comments, Davis’ remarks drew significant criticism, and for good reason. So it’s interesting to see him largely stand by those statements and refuse to apologize. And that perhaps illustrates a larger issue with sports betting discussion at the moment.

One particularly notable aspect of the rise of legalized sports gambling over the past several years has been the two quite different types of people who wind up talking about it. Whether in sponsored social media posts or in on-air segments about gambling picks, the commentary is usually coming either from someone known specifically for betting coverage, or from someone not known for that, but known for being a big sports name. But the problem is that that latter category doesn’t always seem to understand the particular differences in approach and language required when talking about betting.

And this is shown well in these clips from McAfee’s show, and in a surprising way. McAfee has often been criticized for his lack of pushback on guests, especially Aaron Rodgers. But in his defenses of that, McAfee has brought up how he’s not an expert in the areas those people are discussing. But he does know a lot about what is acceptable in gambling promotion and what is not from his past deal with FanDuel, and he illustrates that here.

And while he’s ultimately pretty supportive of Davis and his attempted defense, McAfee comes off much better than his guest in this exchange. That’s particularly true with his illustration of his understanding of acceptable and unacceptable on-air gambling discussion, something Davis still doesn’t seem to have really picked up on here. (However, this whole thing was sort of strange, coming after McAfee producer “Boston Connor” mocked Davis in a “Rumor Mill” segment):

The larger question here isn’t just about Davis. It’s about ESPN, and what levels of discussions they’ve had with on-air personalities and safeguards they’ve set up regarding gambling discussion and segments (especially after this ESPN Bet deal) and what can and cannot be said on the air. The Davis incident, and Davis’ refusal to apologize afterwards, seems to suggest the answer may be “not much.” And that’s a problem.

But another part of the problem here is with the aforementioned categories of people allowed to discuss gambling on-air, or paid to promote various books on social media. The people brought on air for their betting expertise, like Dolan, know where the boundaries are. (This was also very clear in the reaction to Davis’ comments; amongst the people criticizing him were a ton of figures who do discuss betting on-air, and who pointed out that they know better than to do so in the terms he used.) But the people who aren’t necessarily into the gambling world (Davis said in his first response to this that he doesn’t bet) maybe don’t have that knowledge.

And knowledge requirements are not always a bad thing. And they’re seen in lots of other areas: with Davis alone, his college football and college basketball hosting gigs are partly because of the knowledge and experience he has in those areas, and the research he puts in. It would likely not go well to have someone just known for their gambling background step into Davis’ host roles.

But the question is why that can’t go the other way. If Davis is going to talk about gambling on the air, or interview gambling experts, no one is saying that he has to bet himself. But he should be familiar with the basic concepts around sports gambling, and that includes what kinds of language are and are not acceptable. There’s an argument he should do that on his own, but there’s also an argument ESPN should be doing that through wider training.

In either case, though, these particular comments led to a bad look for ESPN, Davis, and sports gambling overall. Hopefully, the specific issue here won’t arise again, and Davis and others will be more careful with their phrasing going forward. But the situation, and Davis’ non-apology after it, illustrates there are still plenty of issues in how the media world discusses gambling, with the very clear language expectations there apparently not communicated to some of the people doing it.

[The Pat McAfee Show on Twitter/X]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.