ESPN issues apology for Aaron Rodgers' comments about Jimmy Kimmel on Pat McAfee Show

ESPN issued an apology Friday afternoon for the false comments New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers made on "The Pat McAfee Show" earlier this week about late-night host Jimmy Kimmel.

Through ESPN vice president of digital production Mike Foss, the network called the comments Rodgers made about Kimmel in relation to the release of the Jeffrey Epstein court documents "a dumb and factually inaccurate joke."

"It never should have happened," Foss said in a statement obtained by USA TODAY Sports. "We all realized that in the moment."

Front Office Sports first reported the ESPN apology. McAfee said Friday that Rodgers will appear on the show next Tuesday.

"The show will continue to evolve," Foss told FOS. "It wouldn't surprise me if Aaron's role evolves with it."

Kimmel took to social media Tuesday night to blast Rodgers and say he never had any contact with Epstein, who died by suicide while imprisoned in 2019.

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) on the sidelines during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) on the sidelines during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at MetLife Stadium.

Earlier that day, McAfee co-host A.J. Hawk egged Rodgers on about the potential release of the court documents, to which the 40-year-old quarterback responded: "There's a lot of people, including Jimmy Kimmel who are hoping that doesn't come out ... if that list comes out, I will definitely be popping some sort of bottles."

The situation created internal strife at ESPN's parent company Disney, which also owns ABC, where "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" airs.

Rodgers is paid $1 million annually for his weekly appearances on McAfee's show, according to reports. On Wednesday, McAfee offered a half-hearted apology, saying he hopes his show is a positive one that uplifts people.

Read more: Aaron Rodgers reaches new low with grudge-filled attack on Jimmy Kimmel

However, the show found itself in more hot water by Friday afternoon.

Pat McAfee accuses ESPN exec of 'attempting to sabotage our program'

The dramatic start to 2024 for the show and ESPN took another turn Friday when the host accused an ESPN executive of intentionally "attempting to sabotage our program."

"There are folks actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN," McAfee said. "More specifically I believe Norby Williamson is the guy attempting to sabotage our program."

ESPN had no comment when asked about McAfee's claim. Last year, the network signed McAfee to a contract worth $85 million over five years to license his show and for his work on "College GameDay."

Williamson is the head of event and studio production at ESPN who wields immense power within the company.

"(Williamson) is seemingly the only human that has information, and then somehow that information gets leaked and it's wrong and then it sets a narrative of what our show is," McAfee said. "And then are we just going to combat that from a rat every single time?"

On Thursday, New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand wrote that Disney, which owns ESPN, would accept the turmoil in return for impressive ratings. But Marchand's reporting included a somewhat dismal look at the numbers since McAfee started airing on ESPN in September. The network loses 48% of viewers from its "First Take" lead-in, although that does not account for the nearly 400,000 viewers who watch on the show's YouTube channel. Still, according to Marchand, the show is down 12 percent from the same window in 2022, which aired a noon ET version of "SportsCenter."

McAfee said the numbers are inaccurate without providing additional data and that he wasn't "100 percent sure" it was Williamson, who McAfee feels is "seemingly the only human that has (that) information."

"Somebody tried to get ahead of our actual ratings release with wrong numbers 12 hours beforehand," McAfee said. "That's a sabotage attempt, and it's been happening ... from some people who didn't necessarily love the old addition of the Pat McAfee Show to the ESPN family."

McAfee retold a story of Williamson not showing up for a meeting they had scheduled in 2018, adding "this guy has had zero respect for me."

As McAfee's comments circulated, other ex-ESPN employees chimed in with similar views toward Williamson. Former ESPN talent Jemele Hill wrote on social media "I can relate."

Ex-ESPN host Michelle Beadle replied to Hill, writing "Well well well ... (laugh-crying emoji)." And a former executive producer for "The Dan Le Batard Show," Mike Ryan, posted "Pat" with three clapping emojis. Le Batard previously aired on ESPN.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Aaron Rodgers' Jimmy Kimmel comment on McAfee results in ESPN apology