High-profile ESPN personalities usually spend their time hyping up big games.
But now, two of the network’s biggest names are drumming up a “vaccine war.” And no, Joe Rogan did not become ESPN’s new head of programming.
The company hired Pat McAfee, and Adam Schefter is more than happy to comply as a useful idiot.
The former’s weekly softball interview with Aaron Rodgers is quickly becoming the most embarrassing, and harmful, segment on the entire network.
It should be bad enough for ESPN to even regret bringing McAfee aboard.
On Tuesday, Rodgers sat in for his weekly segment with the ex-punter, and started chiding Travis Kelce for starring in a commercial for Pfizer.
“Mr. Pfizer said he didn’t think he would be in a vax war with me. This isn’t a war, homie. This is just conversation,” said Rodgers. “But if you want to have some sort of duel, debate, have me on the podcast, come on the show, let’s have a conversation.”
That’s right: The injured Jets quarterback said “debate me, bro,” and McAfee cackled off-mic.
Indeed. The conversation only got more repugnant from there.
“I’m gonna take my man RFK Jr., get his opinion. And he can have Tony Fauci or some other pharmacrat, and we can have a conversation about this,” said Rodgers.
Then McAfee went into full shill mode, calling Robert Kennedy Jr. a “great get.”
“He’s been at the forefront of this conversation at the Internet I have seen. Could you imagine Fauci and Kelce sitting down across from Aaron and RFK Jr.?!,” he yelled.
A.J. Hawk, per usual, stared absent-mindedly into the camera.
Aaron Rodgers is inviting Travis Kelce to have a vaccine debate.
Rodgers proposes that it be him and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. against Kelce and Anthony Fauci.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 10, 2023
As Kelce mentions in the clip above, if he’s “Mr. Pfizer,” then what does that make Rodgers? Jets owner Woody Johnson and his family run Johnson & Johnson, the major pharmaceutical company that also produced a COVID vaccine.
But that’s beside the point. McAfee is the highest-paid personality at ESPN, signing a five-year contract worth more than $85 million. That makes him the face of the Worldwide Leader, regardless of how much Stephen A. Smith is on the air.
Also, don’t forget: When ESPN landed McAfee, it was undergoing a round of unprecedented layoffs, cutting big names such as Jeff Van Gundy, Jalen Rose and Max Kellerman.
In more a direct contrast to McAfee, ESPN has also parted ways with scores of real journalists and substantive talking heads–such as Dan Le Batard, Bomani Jones and Jemele Hill–in recent years.
ESPN employees were reportedly upset over the timing of the McAfee hire, and rightfully so.
They can’t be too pleased now, either, with McAfee using his platform to promote RFK Jr., a conspiracy theorist who believes COVID targets certain races and 5G networks are used for mass surveillance.
RFK Jr. is also maybe the leading voice against COVID vaccines. That’s why he’s at the “forefront of the conversation at the Internet” that McAfee has seen.
It’s one thing for McAfee to never challenge Rodgers during these excruciating spots. It’s another issue entirely for McAfee to shill for some Rogan-esque “vaccine debate.”
When McAfee signed with ESPN, he insisted he would retain creative control over his show. So far, that’s seemingly been the case. He plays by his own rules, dragging down the WorldWide Leader in the process.
From a numbers standpoint, it’s debatable whether McAfee is even delivering. While his program averaged 1.4 million viewers per show across linear TV and YouTube during September, the TV numbers are mediocre.
The bulk of McAfee’s views come from YouTube, but his segments don’t amass more clicks than other uploads from ESPN’s studio offerings.
ESPN was counting on McAfee to reach a new audience, and he hasn’t delivered so far.
But he’s already dragged some programming into the proverbial mud. He spent multiple weeks on College GameDay mired in an over-the-top feud with Washington State, which cuts against the entire ethos of the iconic program.
Washington State, one of the two Power Five college football programs without a home conference, is traditionally the kind of underdog GameDay would highlight.
Now, the show’s new signature personality is taking cheap shots.
McAfee has no impetus to change. He’s earned tens of millions of dollars playing this schtick, and probably isn’t going to stop for suits in Bristol.
But let’s face it: he’s woefully overexposed. It doesn’t help that Schefter, who should seldom tweet about anything besides NFL transactions, said Rodgers/RFK Jr. vs. Kelce/Fauci would be “America’s next great debate.”
The potential next great American debate: pic.twitter.com/4MK5lcChBh
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 10, 2023
The list of Schefter’s social media blunders are long: Deshaun Watson knows his innocence; Dalvin Cook was a “victim of domestic abuse and extortion;” Dwayne Haskins “struggled” to catch on in the NFL. If the gravity of the topic surpasses the waiver wire, Schefter appears to be over his head.
The same can be said for McAfee. ESPN is finding that out the hard way.
And sadly for them, his interviews with Rodgers can’t be deleted with a single click.