One week after Pat McAfee’s spectacular failure in his search for „CHECK!“ when the well-known anti-vaxxer and conspiracy theorist Aaron Rodgers announced that „Aaron Rodgers Tuesdays“ were over for the year, only to return to the show the next day, I began to wonder if McAfee’s actions were part of a grand experiment to see how far society will let him go before turning against him. Or how much ESPN will tolerate before his show goes off the air. Or perhaps it’s to see how far public discourse in America has sunk. Either that, or what’s going on in McAfee’s head is similar to what Homer Simpson thinks about at any given time.
If you missed McAfee’s ode to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on MLK Day, let me recap it for you. It was probably the first mistake ESPN made to broadcast McAfee on MLK Day – it was never a show that would make America proud. But McAfee surprised even me with his stance on racial equality. Let me let you read it for yourself:
„It’s obviously the Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He had a dream. And I think LANK was one of the steps we ever had to possibly see this dream come true. So as we look around we’re realizing that we may be closer than ever to this dream possibly coming true. So soon we’re getting closer… And there’s some elections coming up school in this year in which we need to remember that we are closer than ever before to other people might possibly try to from the outside drive us away by turning inward. Well, as someone who was canceled by both sides last week, both sides canceled me. Two political parties cancelled me last week and we’re still living. Let’s keep in mind that we don’t need all the outside noise. All we need is a little love. That’s what we all have for all the people out there who wake up every day with good intentions just like we do. Other than that, football is great.“
I’m not sure where to start with this word salad, but I’d like to point out that 1) „closer“ isn’t a phrase – it’s „closer“ and 2) being criticized for allowing a conspiracy theorist free rein on your show without ever holding him accountable for his galactic nonsense isn’t equivalent to a „cancellation,“ especially when you’re getting $17 million a year from the world’s largest media company to host a daily show saying whatever the hell you want, no matter how stupid or demonstrably wrong. That is the exact opposite of a cancellation.
I assume I don’t have to explain to you, as you read this, why it’s at best off-putting and at worst appalling for McAfee to compare the pushback he gets for his show to a slain civil rights leader, downright reprehensible. It might even be racist, if I could figure out what McAfee was trying to say. Unfortunately, I can’t.
The concept of being „canceled“ has become a joke – most often by people (usually white men) who can’t stand to be criticized for what comes out of their mouths and who believe that loudly disapproving behavior means the world is unfair to them. In a time when the media was less chaotic (more chaotic?) and actually led by journalists who cared about things like facts and truth, McAfee would have lost Aaron Rodgers on Tuesdays ages ago and might have disappeared from the air altogether. Nowadays, the media, especially sports media, is all about catering to the lowest, loudest, and lowest common denominator. That’s where Pat McAfee comes in – a guy who wears regrettable sleeves on TV.
It’s no surprise that McAfee perceives the country as „closer“ than ever, even though numerous reports have found that America is as divided as ever. The Pew Research Center found that „America is exceptional in its political polarization.“ About 50 percent of Americans have no problem voting for a man who faced 91 criminal charges in multiple jurisdictions, admitted to sexually assaulting women, and was found by a jury to have done exactly that. A survey released just this week found that 50 percent of Americans agree with Donald Trump that immigrants „contaminate the blood of the nation,“ which to me sounds awfully like Nazi residues. „Closer“ than ever? Please. It’s not just that McAfee is uninformed and seemingly knows nothing about the world outside of the sports page, it’s also that he is completely, demonstrably, and objectively wrong all the time. And ESPN allows him to continue as if what he says is the truth. Too often, it’s exactly the opposite of what is true.
But because McAfee took hits from both sides, America is coming together!
„Wow, you really seem to take McAfee’s show personally,“ a commenter on one of my social media platforms recently told me. He’s right, I do. As someone who has worked in sports talk radio for five years, I have seen so many intelligent people in the industry pushed aside because management still targets the white, male demographic between 18 and 54, even though there are so many viewers of sports larger than that. I know so many hosts who would definitely rise to the occasion – to spark the discourse about sports and its impact on our society – if given the chance. But too many of these people hold down „normal“ jobs during the week, only to have a few hours of air time on the weekends. And yet, McAfee complains about being „canceled.“ The truth is that people of color and women are too often excluded from their appearances, even when what they say is absolutely true. It’s not that McAfee was canceled and survived, but that his whiteness, maleness, and appeal to a certain kind of man protected him from any actual consequences for spreading misinformation.
And yes, I take it personally that ESPN thinks I’d rather watch McAfee than Outside the Lines, thinks I’d rather see a few guys sitting in a studio discussing social issues rather than watching Bob Ley or Kate Fagan. That someone at ESPN believes that the Pat McAfee Show is the future – is worthy – of our time. I take that very personally. And you should too.