Pat McAfee and Dan Le Batard Pat McAfee and Dan Le Batard

All things considered, last Wednesday could have been a chaotic day for ESPN.

Hours after Don Van Natta Jr., Seth Wickersham and Jeremy Fowler published a report detailing Bill Belichick’s failed pursuit of another head coaching job after parting ways with the New England Patriots, Pat McAfee announced that the six-time Super Bowl champion head coach would make his media debut as a part of his show’s annual NFL Draft Spectacular. McAfee’s ensuing interview with Belichick didn’t contain any references to — let alone questions about — the report, which included allegations that Patriots owner Robert Kraft warned the Atlanta Falcons not to hire him.

A mere year ago, this would have been a big deal — how could ESPN publish a high profile report about one of the NFL’s most famous figures and then not ask him a single question about it as he appeared on the network mere hours later? But as noted by Dan Le Batard, this is the reality of ESPN in 2024, which has seemingly prioritized McAfee’s success over its previous principles.

“I believe that this is a change going forward that you’re going to have to get used to in exchange for the access: someone asking questions who doesn’t feel beholden to ask what it is that you think should be asked on behalf of the audience or journalists or anything else,” Le Batard said on Monday’s episode of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. “I don’t suppose that anyone will care that Bill Belichick was not asked about the report from Seth Wickersham, Don Van Natta and Jeremy Fowler about Arthur Blank taking calls from Bob Kraft saying, ‘Don’t trust Belichick.’ But I would have liked to have heard Belichick’s response to that.”

After co-host Jon “Stugotz” Weiner asked if that’s something that bothers the journalistically minded Le Batard, the Meadowlark Media co-founder noted that what ultimately matters is how the audience feels about it, with all indications being that it doesn’t care. He proceeded to wax poetic about what he believes that says about the state of ESPN, the network’s relationship with McAfee and the media at large.

“There were a lot of people questioning whether the McAfee thing will work or not. And they’re paying him so much money, Stugotz, that they’re putting all of ESPN and Disney’s resources behind making sure that that show succeeds,” Le Batard said. “That show is going to succeed for a number of different reasons. But the investment will make it so that it cannot fail. It’s not something that will fail unless Pat McAfee doesn’t want to work there. Because he’s not even under the employee restrictions that other employees would be under because he’s renting his stuff to them and they’re making the maximum investment.

“And this is where I tell you where some of the new media can absolutely change things, where you won’t even notice or care what is given away in exchange for the access. Because the access is enough these days. And I would say, generally speaking, the media’s Q rating with people, the job the media does, it’s either not trusted or disliked.”

To Le Batard’s point, there haven’t been many — or any — battles at ESPN that McAfee hasn’t won. He’s publicly called out (now former) executives, rubbed his relationship with Aaron Rodgers in the face of his critics and provided a platform for the Jets quarterback to call out one of Disney’s highest profile employees. Through it all, McAfee’s influence at the Worldwide Leader has only seemingly grown, as evidenced by his Draft Spectacular being the home of Belichick’s highly anticipated media debut.

While Le Batard’s comments might sound like shade, the former Miami Herald columnist has long made it clear he has nothing but respect for what McAfee has already accomplished in the media. And although he may personally prefer a more traditional journalistic approach, he’s also aware that McAfee’s success likely indicates that he’s in the minority in that regard.

[The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz]

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.