ESPN calls Aaron Rodgers' Jimmy Kimmel comments 'dumb and factually inaccurate,' will continue his appearances

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 28: Aaron Rodgers #8 of the New York Jets looks on on from the sideline prior to an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 28, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Kimmel are both on the Disney payroll. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

An ESPN executive responded Friday to Aaron Rodgers' latest controversial comments on "The Pat McAfee Show," three days after the New York Jets quarterback implied late-night host Jimmy Kimmel would be exposed as an acquaintance of convicted child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

In a short statement to Front Office Sports' Michael McCarthy, ESPN senior vice president of digital and studio production Mike Foss lambasted the unfounded claim about a fellow Disney employee, but conceded that Rodgers' paid ESPN appearances would continue.

From FOS:

“Pat announced today that he’s planning on Aaron joining the show Tuesday. Aaron made a dumb and factually inaccurate joke about Jimmy Kimmel,” Foss tells Front Office Sports on Friday. “The show will continue to evolve. It wouldn’t surprise me if Aaron’s role evolves with it.”

Foss also reportedly told McCarthy, "It should never have happened. We all realized that in the moment.”

Early Saturday afternoon, the network itself issued a statement.

“No one is more committed to and invested in ESPN’s success than Norby Williamson,” a statement from the network said. “At the same time, we are thrilled with the multi-platform success that we have seen from the Pat McAfee Show across ESPN. We will handle this matter internally and have no further comment.”

The controversy ignited Tuesday when Rodgers discussed the upcoming release of the "Epstein list," an unsealing of court documents in a case involving Epstein purported to include a list of alleged Epstein clients and co-conspirators. Rodgers, who has clashed with Kimmel in the past, said Kimmel didn't want the list to be released:

"A lot of people, including Jimmy Kimmel, are really hoping that doesn't come out ... If that list comes out, I will definitely be popping some sort of bottle."

Kimmel was unsurprisingly livid about being implied to be personally familiar with a child sex trafficker. He quote-tweeted a clip of the comments with a threat to take the former NFL MVP to court:

"Dear Aa**hole: for the record, I’ve not met, flown with, visited, or had any contact whatsoever with Epstein, nor will you find my name on any “list” other than the clearly-phony nonsense that soft-brained wackos like yourself can’t seem to distinguish from reality. Your reckless words put my family in danger. Keep it up and we will debate the facts further in court."

ESPN's Aaron Rodgers-Pat McAfee-Jimmy Kimmel situation keeps getting messier

Complicating the situation for ESPN is that both Kimmel and Rodgers are on the payroll of its parent company, Disney.

Kimmel has hosted "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on ABC since 2003, while McAfee confirmed last year that he pays Rodgers for his weekly appearances on his show. The nature of those payments actually became another sticking point this week, as Front Office Sports reported Rodgers has "a deal" with McAfee's show that would be difficult to void.

Rodgers' appearances, which have made frequent headlines, are one of the factors behind McAfee's meteoric rise through the media ranks over the past few years. After sporadic appearances as an analyst with ESPN's family of networks, the former Indianapolis Colts punter brought his show to ESPN on a five-year, $85 million contract last May.

His tenure there hasn't been without its bumps, and this most recent one from Rodgers saw even McAfee concede that Kimmel had a point and downplayed the seriousness of his friend's accusation on Wednesday:

"I can see exactly why Jimmy Kimmel felt the way he felt, especially with his position. But I think Aaron was just trying to talk s***."

McAfee then upped the drama on Friday, claiming there was an active effort inside ESPN to "sabotage" his show and calling out top exec Norby Williamson by name. McAfee received an endorsement from former ESPN host Jemele Hill on the latter front.

The source of McAfee's complaints about Williamson was apparently a New York Post column by Andrew Marchand published Thursday with the headline "Pat McAfee needs to produce better ratings to be worth $85 million — and headaches — for ESPN."

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how far Kimmel's wrath will extend. The situation has been reported to be a "can of worms" for Disney, with Front Office Sports reporting that Kimmel could take his grievances to the top even if he decides to not take it to court:

“This will go as far as Kimmel wants to take it,” warns one source. “[Kimmel] is the non-cartoon face of Disney. … Jimmy Kimmel Live! is five days a week, 52 weeks a year. He prints money for Disney. … He’s also a very sensitive guy.”