MORGANTOWN — For the first part of life, Pat McAfee created his reality with his foot as a high school soccer player, a college kicker at WVU, and an NFL punter in Indianapolis.
For the second part of his life McAfee created the “beast” he has become with his mouth as a star on social media with his off-the-wall sports talk show earned him a four-year, $120,-million deal with FanDuel.
Through it all, as much as he used his foot and his mouth, he never wound up with his foot in his mouth, which has led him to become the latest Disney character as he moves from YouTube to ESPN and all its platforms with his “The Pat McAfee Show.”
He brings with him 2.2 million YouTube subscribers, 2.8 million Twitter followers and 1.3 million on Instagram, which probably makes him more popular than Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto combined.
And richer. The multiyear deal obviously more lucrative than the one he had with FanDuel.
Many worry that the corporate ESPN folks will change McAfee, but he vows that won’t happen and, instead, if anything changes it will be the world of sports talk media.
Not every one of McAfee’s fans were thrilled with the announcement he had just made, fearing that he was selling out to corporate America — to Disney, to ESPN, that changing venues would change his venture.
On his show, he said his social media was alive with with “backlash and negativity.”
“It happened on Twitter, YouTube, my Instagram, my wife’s Instagram. People commented on her Instagram saying her husband, her new baby’s father was a sellout. They have no idea. What are they even talking about?
“The reason why I didn’t try to explain myself to everybody was because with this particular program — and I know it sounds arrogant, or whatever — I’m the host, I’m the pundit. The talk has to go through here, like literally right here,” McAfee went on, pointing to his brain.
“To here,” he continued, pointing to his mouth.
“Like, that [selling out] is never going to happen,” he said. “It’s a cool thing, how passionate people are and how mad people got, but I think we have a real opportunity to change sports media as a whole.”
Now that, far more than anything McAfee said to this point, sounded arrogant, like his ego taking over.
But it wasn’t really that.
McAfee has an idea, a plan, a belief that his success on social media platforms would carry over to the more traditional media because he was offering up an alternative to what sports talk media has become.
“Just like Stephen A. [Smith] and Skip [Bayless] had success and everybody wanted to replicate it, we want to get in there and showcase sports in a celebratory fashion; in a way where you are happy for people.”
Stop here and think about this for a minute.
Most sports talk shows on radio, television and the media want to rip, to find fault, to blame.
They have grown out of the second guess, which was always popular among fans but detracted from what sports were really about.
I know about this because my own philosophies have gone from seeking out negativity. For every defeat there is a victory, and as often the defeat comes from a failure, the victory grows out of a success.
While Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless and their type preyed on errors, a Dick Vitale would find what was good in the games ... and there now is not only a need for that, there is a place for it and McAfee believes he will provide it.
True, his history is of having a potty mouth, which he plans to clean up some, at least as far as the dreaded “f-bomb” goes, but his approach will be the same.
“Instead of trying to prove people shouldn’t be in the position they are in, I think there is a chance that [taking a celebratory approach] can ooze into other decisions being made. We have a real opportunity to change the narrative about an entire division of people — sports media,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity I am incredibly honored to have and I’m thankful ESPN’s people kind of see this as well.”
The biggest fear fans of McAfee’s show have is that ESPN will force him to change, either it be to go to a shirt and tie appearance, to tone back on the persona that he presents as a personality or drive him toward a different school of thought.
McAfee said that came up a lot during negotiations and he was convinced they were with him.
“We’ve had numerous convos along the way and it was like ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s give this a real go.’ We’re both going to have to wade through a little bit but we’ll be good in the end.
“I’m very, very thankful that I am going to have the opportunity to be on every television set in America. That’s good news. That’s not bad news.”
We will, of course, have to wait and see what corporate America does with Pat McAfee. Someone who has been there, former ESPN host Dan Le Batard, reached out to him on Tuesday and offered some advice.
“Giant heartfelt congratulation to @PatMcAfeeShow. Don’t let anyone change you, Pat. Or how you dress. Or how you curse. Or how you succeed. You’ve done the hardest thing, your way. You’ve built a beast. Don’t let anyone tame it.”
Those of us who watched McAfee come through West Virginia University as a kicker and punter, who had great moments and suffered during one of the lowest moments he will ever experience against Pitt, expect there is no worrying about anyone taming his beast.
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