During the mid- to late 1990s, World Wrestling Entertainment faced an existential crisis as its product stagnated and people began tuning out in droves.
Then-WWE head honcho Vince McMahon salvaged his company by pivoting his kid-friendly content to an aggressively more PG-13 tone. This meant more blood, more sexuality, more swearing and more over-the-top violence than ever before.
This became known as the “Attitude Era,” and it is still regarded by many as the biggest boom period in professional wrestling history.
How does this pertain to ESPN? While “The Worldwide Leader” might not be hosting “Buried Alive” matches on its airwaves anytime soon, it too may be looking for a more “adult” edge as it grapples with an uncertain future.
Enter former Indianapolis Colts punter (and WWE announcer) Pat McAfee, and his rowdy, boisterous self-named show.
“The Pat McAfee Show” made its much-anticipated debut on ESPN on Thursday, and many observers wondered how the foul-mouthed program would translate under the corporate umbrella of ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co.
In an attempt to perhaps ease some of those concerns, “The Pat McAfee Show” kicked off its ESPN era with a warning — and a request.
“The following progrum is a collection of stooges talking about happenings in the sports world,” a goofy voiceover said at the beginning of Thursday’s show. “It is meant to be comedic informative. The opinions expressed on this show do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of their peers, their boss, or ESPN.
“There may be some ‘cuss’ words because that’s how humans in the real world talk. If you are a young, please seek permission before watching any further.”
The intro closed with, “Cheers, The Pat McAfee Show. p.s. Don’t sue us.”
Hello beautiful people..
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) September 7, 2023
The program then largely commenced in the same tone and tenor it typically does.
While ESPN and Disney may be willing to turn an indifferent eye toward “The Pat McAfee Show” and its colorful language, it will be interesting to see if they will be nearly as accepting of a weekly guest on the show: New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The longtime Green Bay Packer appears to be intent on pushing his boundaries.
“They’re gonna try and censor some of this show, it looks like,” Rodgers said when he appeared on the debut ESPN episode. “Is that right?”
“Yeah, so we can’t say [the F-word],” McAfee said. “You know, that one.”
The host didn’t get through the first ESPN episode without letting that one slip:
McAfee acknowledged that his bosses were OK with “s***.” That’s when Rodgers suggested the two of them take a page out of “South Park” and test just how much foul language they can get away with on-air.
WARNING: The following clip contains language that some people may find offensive
Aaron Rodgers and Pat McAfee test ESPN’s censorship rules pic.twitter.com/xAeluFnaPb
— Awful Announcing (@awfulannouncing) September 7, 2023
The quarterback, who will appear on “The Pat McAfee Show” on Tuesdays during the NFL season as he has in the past, apparently won’t be censoring himself.
It’s worth noting that Rodgers is a vocal critic of vaccination mandates, which probably gives Disney more cause for pause than an errant F-bomb. McAfee has taken some grief for giving the NFL star a platform at all, with some calling the quarterback an “anti-vaxxer.”
That’s not an apology at all. What a piece of work.
Rodgers raised the risk of exposure to Coronavirus for other people, including the team.
There is no right to spread infectious disease.
— Andy O (@Andy_Olsen) November 9, 2021
I get @PatMcAfeeShow likes having Rodgers on his show but being a shill for a nut job anti-vaxxer is not the image you want to have. Frankly this is reaching a point where people need to evaluate the garbage McAfee is allowing on his show. He’s becoming another Joe Rogan.
Before WWE saved itself in the 1990s, people didn’t realize just how close it was to going belly-up.
Now ESPN finds itself in similarly troubled waters, as its parent company isn’t even trying to hide the fact that the network might be a divestible asset. Between the layoffs and the stigma attached to “The Worldwide Leader” right now, it’s not a stretch to say that ESPN needs a lifeline, just as WWE did 30 years ago.
But while PG-13 content saved WWE (the company is as profitable as it’s ever been in 2023), it remains to be seen if the same strategic pivot will rescue ESPN.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.