Aaron Rodgers returned to ESPN’s airwaves on Tuesday, saying he did not call late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmel a pedophile and reiterating his skepticism of vaccines, turning his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” into another bizarre chapter in the drama consuming the network.
The segment, which aired live on Tuesday afternoon, included a 20-minute defense of his vaccine-skeptic worldview that touched on anti-malarial drug use in Africa and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book about covid, all coming on an otherwise football-obsessed program the day after the University of Michigan won college football’s national championship.
“I totally understand how serious an allegation of pedophilia would be,” Rodgers said. “For him to be upset about that? I get it. Did you watch the quote?”
Rodgers added, “I’m not stupid enough to accuse you of that with absolutely zero concrete evidence.”
Rodgers spoke virtually uninterrupted by McAfee and took issue with the news media’s interpretation of his comments that made national news last week. “There’s a lot of people, including Jimmy Kimmel, that are really hoping that [list] doesn’t come out,” he said last Tuesday, a quote that was widely interpreted to imply a connection between the serial abuser Jeffrey Epstein and Kimmel.
That segment plunged McAfee’s show, and ESPN, into a week of chaos that included McAfee publicly bashing an ESPN executive and Kimmel dedicating his opening monologue Monday night to Rodgers.
“This is the game plan of the media,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “They try and cancel, and it’s not just me. … If you look at all the different people who’ve been censored from the internet, especially during covid, the canceling that went on, the censoring, using the government to try and censor people.”
Rodgers’s response came a day after Kimmel delivered a 7-minute roast of the Jets quarterback, calling Rodgers “too arrogant to know how ignorant he is.”
“I’ve seen guys like him before,” Kimmel said on “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” adding that Rodgers “genuinely thinks that because God gave him the ability to throw a ball, he’s smarter than everybody else. The idea that his brain is just average is unfathomable to him. We learned during covid somehow he knows more about science than scientists.”
Kimmel continued: “A guy who went to community college, then got into Cal on a football scholarship, and didn’t graduate. Someone who never spent a minute studying the human body is an expert in the field of immunology. He just put on a magic [Green Bay Packers] helmet and that ‘G’ made him a genius.”
Rodgers’s comments Tuesday were part of a rambling and scattershot segment that took ESPN away from the major sports stories of the day — Michigan’s championship and NFL coaching firings. The company likes to say it serves sports fans “anytime, anywhere” and spent the Trump era trying to reestablish its apolitical brand. Rodgers’s exhaustive discussion of the efficacy of masking and anti-viral medications like Remdesivir were anything but.
His appearance also represented the latest volley between the quarterback and the late-night host, with McAfee playing a starring role, too. Kimmel threatened legal action after the initial comments, which prompted ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro to reach out to Kimmel to smooth things over last week. (Kimmel at ABC and McAfee at ESPN both work for the same parent company, Disney; ESPN licenses the show from McAfee.)
McAfee offered some measure of contrition last week, saying he understood Kimmel’s anger but that Rodgers was just talking “s—.” ESPN executive Mike Foss told The Washington Post last week that Rodgers’s “joke” was “deeply dumb and factually inaccurate” and “should never have happened.”
Rodgers on Tuesday addressed Foss by name, saying he didn’t understand those comments. “Mike, you’re not helping,” Rodgers said, later adding, “I don’t work for you.”
The fallout from the original Rodgers comments continued last Friday when McAfee blasted a high-level ESPN executive by name, accusing Norby Williamson of “sabotaging” his show because of a report in the New York Post that flagged lagging linear TV ratings of McAfee’s show. That was followed by a cryptic tweet by McAfee over the weekend that seemed to compare himself to Tony Montana, the lead character of “Scarface,” and ESPN releasing a statement that it would handle the matter internally. McAfee doubled down on Monday, saying he didn’t regret his accusations against Williamson, although he said he had a strong relationship with other ESPN executives.
The turmoil has caused many current and former ESPN employees to wonder about McAfee’s net value to the company — he earns a reported $15 million a year — as well as how the sports giant polices its star talent. Foss told The Post that McAfee’s digital popularity is key to the network’s future.
On Tuesday, both McAfee and Rodgers said they hoped everyone could now move on from the Kimmel-Epstein story. If Rodgers were to apologize, Kimmel said, he would “accept his apology and move on.”
Rodgers, meanwhile, offered advice to the Jets the day before the appearance with McAfee. “Flush the bulls—,” he said, urging teammates who had voted him the team’s most inspiring player to eliminate distractions that had nothing to do with winning.