Pat McAfee: ESPN’s Double Standard for Black Athletes

The adage, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it,” has always held true. However, at ESPN, it has often seemed as though who said something was more important than the actual content of the statement. Aaron Rodgers and Pat McAfee have been operating outside the realm of sports for a considerable period, something that has been and remains a privilege unavailable to former and current Black employees. It’s essential to understand that terms like “stick to sports” and “shut up and dribble” are thinly veiled expressions used by certain people to keep Black individuals and athletes from speaking up. Even though these attitudes may be less politically correct today, they continue to send messages to remind us of the “place” they think we belong in. Frequent usage of words such as “thug,” “woke,” and “diversity/DEI” also signal discrimination against Black individuals.

Acknowledging that this publication was once involved in a “stick to sports” controversy before my employment, we must recognize the large disparity in treatment between Black and non-Black employees. Breaches like the ones led by Rodgers and McAfee represent liberties that Black employees have never been afforded— liberties that they never thought were attainable. McAfee’s recent statement on social media is worrying, implying that no one would want to engage in political conversations with them. It’s essential to highlight the oxymoronic nature of this, as Rodgers earns millions by offering his uninformed opinions on a wide range of topics. Subsequently, McAfee’s blatant support of and solidarity with Rodgers is rather concerning, especially when he makes unwarranted remarks on occasions such as Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

McAfee’s insubordination even reaches his direct superiors, resulting in unprofessional accusations against high-ranking ESPN executives. A former ESPN executive stated that any Black individual behaving in this manner would have been dismissed, highlighting the stark differences in treatment based on race. Former ESPN employees have also commented on these discrepancies, providing insight into the preferential treatment imposed as per demographic.

It wasn’t too long ago when ESPN went to great lengths to prevent its employees from engaging in similar appropriated behavior. Following the outcry when Jemele Hill referred to Donald Trump as a “white supremacist,” ESPN established rigid policies concerning partisan views. However, contradictions are visible when contrasting Hill’s punishment for expressing opinions with McAfee’s exemption from similar repercussions.

The recent rebranding of ESPN’s Black-oriented website to “Andscape” from its original name, “The Undefeated,” further reflects this pattern of discrimination. The site’s objective was to cover Blackness and culture intersecting with the sports world, but it now appears to have lost its original essence. Similarly, news that McAfee still has his job despite causing significant controversy adds to the injustice, especially considering the significant layoffs elsewhere.

Recognizing these disparities in treatment and power dynamics is crucial moving forward, providing an insight into the environment at the “worldwide leader in sports.”