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ESPN executive targeted by host Pat McAfee departs network

By Jon Passantino and Oliver Darcy, CNN

(CNN) — ESPN executive Norby Williamson, who came under attack in recent months from host Pat McAfee in an on-air rant accusing the network veteran of “sabotage,” will depart the sports network.

The move was announced Friday in a memo to staff from ESPN president of content Burke Magnus.

“I am reaching out with some important news. Norby Williamson will be leaving the company today after nearly 40 years of dedicated service,” Magnus wrote in the memo.

“During Norby’s career, he made significant contributions across many important roles within Content,” Magnus continued. “Through his steadfast commitment and attention to detail, Norby has had a lasting impact on the sports fans’ experience. His wide-ranging influence includes SportsCenter, breaking news coverage, immense creativity within event and studio productions and diverse storytelling across various ESPN platforms.”

Magnus said the network would conduct a search for a new senior content executive. He did not state a reason for Williamson’s departure.

Earlier this year, McAfee, who hosts his show on ESPN and YouTube, described Williamson as a “rat” and accused him of leaking false information about the show to media.

“There are some people actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN,” McAfee said on his program. “More specifically I believe Norby Williamson is the guy who is attempting to sabotage our program.”

The public attack on a senior network executive stunned observers. McAfee, who did not face discipline for the comments, later addressed the remarks on the air, doubling down on his beef with Williamson. 

“Now there’s certainly people that we don’t like and they don’t like us,” McAfee said, without naming anyone in particular. “That’s how it’s going to be and I don’t take back anything I said about ‘said person,’ but the overall storyline about us and ESPN … is that we’re strong, baby.”

The comments came after McAfee ignited fierce backlash for allowing New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a paid contributor on the program, to suggest on the air that ABC late night star Jimmy Kimmel could be linked to Jeffrey Epstein, who died by suicide in jail while awaiting federal sex-trafficking charges in 2019.

Kimmel vigorously denied the allegation and suggested he might sue Rodgers for the false claim.

In a note to staff Friday, Williamson celebrated his work at the network, where he first started as an employee in the company’s mailroom.

“Almost 40 years ago in 1985, I was so very fortunate to be offered an opportunity at ESPN,” he wrote. “Due to the exceptional hard work, creativity and commitment of the people of ESPN, and to a much lesser extent my contributions, I’d like to think we’ve left our great company in a far better place than we found it.”

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