In January 2017, then-Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee went on a rant after not being selected to a media All-Pro team (presumably the AP one) despite getting that recognition from NFL coaches and scouts, vowing to “take over the bum-ass media that’s in sports right now.” A week later, he shocked many by doing something along those lines, retiring from the NFL at age 29 to join Barstool Sports and announcing that move live on their Comedy Central show from the Super Bowl host city.
McAfee’s since left Barstool, exiting a few weeks back and citing disagreements with “the business people in the building,” but he’s still a media figure, now doing The Pat McAfee Show 2.0 Tuesdays and Thursdays and Heartland Radio 2.0 Mondays and Wednesdays, plus a betting challenge with sponsor MyBookie. He spoke about leaving Barstool and about his new ventures in a wide-ranging recent conversation with Awful Announcing, but what perhaps really stood out were his remarks on leaving the NFL for a sports media venture in the first place, and how he surprised even his parents with his initial announcement.
“My mom and dad had no idea what the hell was going on,” McAfee said. “When I told them I was retiring, after being voted into the Pro Bowl, ‘I’m retiring and I’m going to go work on the internet for a living,’ my mom and dad…my dad was a truck driver and now he works in the wood business, my mom a secretary, they were very mindblown by the whole thing.”
McAfee said his parents were quick to back his decision, though.
“But my parents are very supportive; they went boots to the ground, tried to learn as much as they could about Barstool and help me out as much as possible. But it being on Comedy Central didn’t help, a lot of people thought it was a big joke, but it was a lot of fun, to be honest. And everything was so fast-moving.”
He said while his retirement (at age 29, and in a year where he’d received a Pro Bowl nod) to join an internet sports site was seen as pretty surprising, that might become more common in the coming years.
“I assume this type of thing will be very regular in the future with players leaving to go to established internet places, but I was very proud of it. And we broke the internet during the Super Bowl that week, or that day, and it was a really cool thing. It was kind of hit the ground running into the whole internet process, and I enjoyed the hell out of all the reactions.”
McAfee said the timing just felt right for him to leave, between his poor relationship with then-new Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson (he’s spoken about that both on PFT Live and on his own podcast earlier this month), his injury concerns, and his desire to do something he was more passionate about. And he said he has no regrets for leaving the NFL when he did.
“No. It’s not that I’m happy that I’m on the media side, it’s just that it became a place where I didn’t really feel like the NFL was for guys like me any more. It became very notable, the last conversation the GM and I had, I released it on my first episode of the Pat McAfee Show 2.0, he hated everything about me, basically. That wasn’t a fun working relationship, I didn’t enjoy that.”
“And I was doing stand-up comedy in the offseason, and we sold like 10,000 tickets in the state of Indiana in like 35 seconds or something. I was just getting to the point where I was getting true fulfillment off the field, whether from doing philanthropical things or telling dumb stories about myself, I just fell out of love with the business side of the NFL. Plus, I was staring down my third knee surgery in four years, so rehab was going to have to happen.”
“In my mind, I just got to the point where I was like ‘I’m going to chase fulfillment. I know I can probably juice a couple more years here out of my legs if I want, I can squeeze this thing dry if I really want it.’ But I just got to the point where I got my parents out of debt, I got my friends out of debt, I gifted my dad a company so he could work for himself for the first time ever. It just got to the point where I was like ‘I just have to keep the lights on now.’ I just really wanted to chase fulfillment, and Barstool was the only place that gave me that option when I decided to retire, and I have no regrets at all.”
McAfee eventually parted ways with Barstool late last month, though, and talked about that decision in the same podcast episode, saying his complaints weren’t with founder Dave Portnoy or CEO Erika Nardini, but with how some of the business people under them handled working with him. He expanded on that to AA, saying he doesn’t have hard feelings about the split, but he feels it was the right move.
“It was honestly just, whenever you’re doing a 50/50 revenue split with somebody who’s 713 miles away, there’s always some sort of trust thing that could happen. And with how big Dave and Erika had guided Barstool Sports to become, the business side blew up as well. Deals were getting pulled and made without my knowledge. And the original deal was just full transparency; I wanted to learn the business. With how big it got, Dave and Erika never expected and I never expected when I signed on with them, it just became something that the waters got a little bit muddied.”
“And although Dave and Erika tried their best to keep me around, I made my decision that I didn’t really trust the business process any more, being so far away. I chose not to go to New York, I wanted to stay in Indianapolis because I love this place, it just got to a point where the business side of it got kind of in the way. And Dave, Erika and myself are all very amicable still, we have a lot of respect for each other, it was just a parting of a pairing. I’m very lucky for my time there, but now it’s just I have to do it on my own, and it’s been very fun and interesting.”
McAfee said he’s quite happy with how things are going on his own so far, and with MyBookie’s support in particular.
“MyBookie has become an incredible partner. They sponsor my studio, so I get a chance to release a podcast on Tuesdays and Thursdays. …MyBookie has stepped up in incredible ways so that we can continue our operation of providing content for the people. We also have a “Beat Pat McAfee Challenge” (where bettors can gamble on an over/under of what McAfee can do in a given context; the current one is “How many cornholes will Pat hit in five minutes?”, with a line of 20.5). …t’s been an incredible partnership, and MyBookie has really stepped up to the plate and helped me and my team here.”
He said he’ll still be producing similar podcast content to what he was doing with Barstool, and he hopes to stand out in a crowded podcast arena by using his own experience as a player to connect with guests. (Some guests so far have included Joe Thomas, Carson Palmer and Shane Lechler.)
“I don’t have a Sirius show now, Monday through Friday, which I really miss, but with my podcast, I had my team with me, we did the editing, we did everything for it, so it’s all basically the same pieces of the puzzle coming together and just getting into a studio, having a good time with incredible guests and hopefully bringing things out of my guests that other interviewers can’t do. Whether it’s because I’m a former player or people understand that they’re talking to a guy who’s an idiot and that makes them open up more, whatever the case is, the job is to get things out of people in the interview that people don’t commonly get to hear. I think that’s the goal of every podcast, but I just hope that I succeed in it.”
McAfee said he thinks NFL players are more willing to share interesting comments with interviewers like him who also played in the league.
“I think it gives me notoriety with the players, I think it gives me a respect level. It’s just like if a coach played before, players just have a little more, I don’t want to say respect, but willingness to open up to players. I’ve been through training camps. Even though I was just a punter and went through nowhere near the amount of grit and pain that these guys go through on a regular basis, I’ve been through a season, been through a training camp, I got a chance to play in the Pro Bowl, it’s like they’re talking to somebody that’s been there, done that with the same things they have. So it’s just a comfort level thing that I think I’m very, very lucky to have with guys. The interviews have really turned into something really cool.”
He said his time at Barstool has also helped him figure out what to focus on.
“I learned so much about the internet. I learned about content that will work, content that doesn’t work, ideas that just seem like they might not be a great fit for TV but it’s great for the internet. Some of the best brands on the entire internet are in that Barstool umbrella. You’re talking about Big Cat, PFT, two geniuses basically when it comes to internet content. And the way Dave has been able to just figure out ways to drive traffic to that website, and Erika making deals with companies you’d never think would come into the internet, basically it was just a university. It was a year and a half university of learning the business of the internet from a company that started as a newspaper on the streets of Boston to what it is now.”
“And hopefully I’ll be able to take that, with incredible partners like MyBookie and SeatGeek and DraftKings, and hopefully just do everything I can for them so we have a great relationship moving forward. To be honest, that’s what the internet’s all about, it’s all about having great business relationships, and I’m very grateful for the one with MyBookie. And that’s what Barstool taught me.”