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Canzano: Pat McAfee's bully act falls flat
What's with the venom for Washington State?
Turns out I’m the fool. When ESPN made a bet on Pat McAfee I celebrated the move. I thought he would bring good opinions, fun energy, and make the network better. Instead he’s turned into a low-grade school-yard bully.
Again this week, McAfee went after the kid picked last on the playground. On ESPN’s College GameDay he said: “Shut up, Washington State. I’m about sick of you wasting time on this show.” Then a couple of days later he laid into the Cougars on his own show, insisting WSU should be grateful for the exposure it gets, as if ESPN were a philanthropist.
“You guys just start getting petty and attacking? F**k off,” McAfee said.
The irony is that McAfee is more like Washington State than he’d ever admit. The story goes that he borrowed $100 from a friend in high school, lied to his parents, entered a poker tournament and won enough money to fund a trip to Miami for a punting showcase. Once there, he did enough to get an offer from West Virginia University, which might as well be WSU for the purpose of this discussion.
McAfee was a seventh-round NFL Draft pick. He had a solid pro career and has transitioned into a media personality. When you dig into his story he likes to portray himself as the underdog kid who dreamed of living in a home with a staircase and now resides in the biggest mansion in the best neighborhood on television.
Washington State and Oregon State were left behind when the Pac-12 Conference members scattered in August. It’s no fault of their own. The two football programs draw healthy TV audience, are ranked in the Top 25, and have put a pile of players in the NFL. Yet, both wake up drowning in anxiety and uncertainty these days.
Their biggest sin?
The Morrill Land Grant College Act of 1862 set aside federal lands and funding to create colleges in every state. It’s how schools such as Wisconsin, Georgia, Iowa State, Florida, Clemson and Missouri got their origins.
The same federal act jump-started WSU and OSU. I suppose if we could rent a time machine, we might be tempted to urge university founders in the late 1800s to think less about their mission and more about potential media-rights implications in 2023. The land-grant schools were intentionally placed in rural areas. That was the bleeping point.
I’ve visited a lot of college towns. Pullman and Corvallis aren’t that different from Madison, Wisc. or West Lafayette, Ind. or Tallahassee, Fla. The community rallies around the university. The local businesses rely on students. Hotels, restaurants and shops come alive when there’s a home football game.
On the day the Pac-12 broke up in August, I wrote a column about Pullman Presbyterian Church. It has the good fortune of being located three blocks from WSU’s football stadium. The church youth group funds its year-long activities by selling parking spots for home games.
For typical games, the kids charge $25 for a parking spot. But when WSU plays against premium opponents such as Washington, Oregon and USC they get $40 or $50. When the conference splintered and left WSU behind, Matthew McNelly, the pastor at the church, told me: “All that goes away now.”
So what’s with Pat McAfee’s sad act?
Why is he punching down so furiously? What’s with the venom for Washington State? And what’s next? Making fun of little kids who are good at math?
McAfee has every right to his opinion. It’s a free country. But I wonder if he’s thought for a moment about what it’s like to be in WSU’s shoes. He’d understand why so many people are disappointed. I wonder if he realizes how bad it looks to throw haymakers at a school that is in the fight of its life.
The ESPN GameDay producers slipped a bad joke in front of Lee Corso a couple of weeks ago. The 88-year-old former coach stumbled through the delivery, making fun of the WSU vs. OSU game, calling it the “Nobody Wants Us Bowl.” It might be true, but I didn’t blame Cougars’ coach Jake Dickert or anyone else for being upset about it.
The guy getting hit in the face is allowed to punch back, isn’t he? The schools that feel attacked are permitted to raise their fists, too, aren’t they?
I don’t blame Washington State and Oregon State fans for being upset at ESPN and GameDay or Corso and Kirk Herbstreit, either. Herbie, by the way, should know better. He played quarterback at Ohio State — a land-grant school founded in 1870.
“I am just talking sh*t in the middle of that,” McAfee said on his show. “Bullsh*t that you attack Kirk Herbstreit in the way you did.”
I suspect McAfee just didn’t like that he was being left out of the fray. Nobody was talking about him or thinking about him. Anyone who has spent any time watching McAfee knows that he’s an upstager. He doesn’t like to stand in the shadows. It’s why ESPN hired him. But it’s a slippery slope when the talent is maniacally focused on nothing more than being in the spotlight.
Early in his acting career Marlon Brando was notorious for upstaging. Once, during a theater production where another character was giving a drawn out and extended monologue Brando got bored. He unzipped his fly, turned his back to the audience, and urinated on stage. It got him removed from the production. I’m not saying McAfee needs to go. He doesn’t. But he may want to visit Pullman and probably Corvallis, too, and get to know them before he pisses all over the places.
I’m the fool, though.
I believed that Pat McAfee was going to be a great addition to the ESPN family. I viewed him as fresh and forward-thinking. Given that he’d played in the NFL, I figured he’d bring some new perspective. I liked his rags-to-riches story. I didn’t take him for a school-yard bully. But that’s the role he’s playing these days.
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