Pat McAfee’s repeated airing of Aaron Rodgers’ conspiracy theories on ESPN presents a headache for Disney boss Bob Iger

Pat McAfee’s repeated airing of Aaron Rodgers’ conspiracy theories on ESPN presents a headache for Disney boss Bob Iger

Where are Bob Iger and Jimmy Pitaro?

The Disney and ESPN chiefs have both been conspicuously silent as sports shock jock Pat McAfee very publicly uses their air to host a weekly conspiracy program with injured New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers — an off-the-rails affair that recently tarred and feathered Jimmy Kimmel within the Magic Kingdom’s own walls.

Neither Iger nor Pitaro said a word Tuesday as Rodgers made his way back to ESPN’s air, using his regular appearance on the Disney-owned channel to go on an extended — and, at times, fact-free — rant on a range of topics unrelated to sports. Rodgers, who McAfee handsomely pays to appear on the show once a week, spread medical misinformation, he assailed the media, and even went as far as to rail against an ESPN executive in front of hundreds of thousands of live viewers.

RELATED: Aaron Rodgers blames media in response to Jimmy Kimmel’s comments about him

The only thing Rodgers couldn’t muster up the courage to do? Publicly apologize to Kimmel — a trait he currently shares with Iger and Pitaro, both of whom have not said a word as their late-night star has seen his reputation repeatedly called into question and sullied on ESPN.

Instead, Rodgers further sought to maim the ABC comedian, skewering him in a bizarre rant for standing with the medical community and the likes of Dr. Anthony Fauci during the pandemic by recommending people get vaccinated and take basic precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

Beyond the issue of his ceaseless attacks on Kimmel, it is astonishing that Disney continues to permit Rodgers to spread vaccine misinformation and smear widely respected public health authorities like Fauci on the company’s massive platforms. That puts Disney, a reputable brand that aims to be as inoffensive as possible, in the company of Fox News, the only other major television broadcaster that comes to mind that allows for the irresponsible and unchecked airing of such anti-intellectual drivel.

To be fair, Disney and ESPN are dealing with a complex problem. It’s not easy to rein in big personalities — especially when neither McAfee nor Rodgers are ESPN employees. ESPN licenses McAfee’s show (the company doesn’t produce it) and Rodgers has no direct business relationship with the sports channel.

But it’s a bed that Iger and Pitaro made when they willfully entered into a business relationship with McAfee and inked an eye-popping agreement (reportedly worth $85 million) to expand it last year. McAfee is McAfee. He has not changed. And neither Iger nor Pitaro should be surprised with the mess they are now being forced to clean up.

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The complexities of the problem also do not preclude Disney from taking some form of public action. The hands of Iger and Pitaro are not entirely tied. The Disney boss and ESPN chief might be behaving as if they are paralyzed, but there are unquestionably levers that they can pull to make it clear that the rhetoric being beamed by the “worldwide leader in sports” to the masses is unacceptable. After all, it is their air.

RELATED: Jimmy Kimmel’s jokes about Aaron Rodgers’ anti-vax, ‘tin-foil’ theories started nasty feud

Pulling those levers and/or taking a public stand for basic decency would certainly take a few ounces of courage. It would require backbone. And it would likely fracture business relationships that Disney would prefer to maintain. But standing still has, thus far, proved to be an ineffective strategy in containing the mess. And, given McAfee and Rodgers’ propensity for controversy, the issues underpinning this particular episode will likely continue to be a recurring problem. While the current uproar might soon quiet down, Kimmel has forced a magnifying glass over the show, which will remain.

Iger and Pitaro have a mountain of decidedly larger problems that they must contend with, including bringing ESPN into the streaming future. They have probably hoped that this will resolve on its own. But, like a gnawing headache, it’s not going away.

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