Content Warning: Violence, Sexual Assault, Racism
At the University of Virginia, the Instagram account @barstooluva has amassed thousands of followers. Its content is reminiscent of a modern age “America’s Home Videos,” with its most recent hit– holding a whopping 50,500+ views– featuring a guy from this past Midsummers being launched into what was supposed to be a shallow kiddie pool. He spirals uncontrollably through the air and skids onto his knees, eventually coming to a (miraculous) stop. He throws his head towards the sky, triumphant, encapsulating the devil-may-care attitude of the wild beast known as the UVA Student. The crowd roars. Go Hoos.
The content is entertaining. I love Midsummers guy (call me?). But UVA students should take a closer look at the media conglomerate behind the platform known for memes about VTech, football updates, the (deserved) idolization of Tony Bennett, and, yes, Midsummer’s guy. Barstool Sports has made a fortune through misogyny and racism dressed as humor, intimidating journalists, and outright harassment.
So before you click that follow button, here are five things you may want to investigate for yourself regarding Barstool Sports.
1. Founder David Portnoy was the subject of an Insider investigation, in which two women accused him of sexual assault.
In response to these allegations, according to the Washington Post, he encouraged all 2.7 million of his Twitter followers to harass the piece’s writer, Julia Black. Portnoy then posted a video where he threatened to beat the Insider CEO for “false” claims, vowing “your head is going to be on my spike.” Unsurprisingly, Portnoy previously had suggested, during a radio broadcast, that Harvey Weinstein (sentenced to 23 years for sex crimes) had merely been making legitimate “fair trades” when he demanded sex from subordinates. As if justifying Weinstein’s behavior, Portnoy put the disgraced producer’s thought process into his own words: “This is my company, I gotta get fucking laid, and if she’s willing to make that trade…”
2. Barstool Sports has a history of sexist language on its site, and actively participates in the objectification of women and the incitement of gender-based violence…
…From the longstanding segment "Guess that Ass" to the time they called a “female reporter a ‘fucking slut’ whose only job is to 'make men hard.'" Even more repulsive, Portnoy wrote in a 2010 blog post that “If you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans, you kinda deserve to be raped." Barstool Sports attempted to defend their infamous “Blackout Parties” on college campuses by saying they don’t condone rape—unless the woman is intoxicated (Said Portnoy: "Just to make friends with the feminists I'd like to reiterate that we don't condone rape of any kind at our Blackout Parties in mid January. However if a chick passes out, that's a grey area.”) Barstool’s response to backlash against the parties? Portnoy feels that “[Feminists] have a problem with everything about us and they've latched onto the rape joke," when "it's such a small fraction of what we do."
See guys, he only condones rape some of the time.
3. Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy says he’s “uncancellable” despite his recorded use of racist rhetoric.
In a 2016 Barstool Sports “comedy video” Portnoy says he’s “going to say something that’s racist,” then admits he thought Black Lives Matter activist and NFL player Colin Kapernik was “an ISIS guy… Throw a head wrap on this guy, he’s a terrorist. He looks like Bin Laden.” His co-host responded by affirming it wasn’t racist, since Kaepernik wasn’t “really Black.” In his defense, Portnoy noted Barstool Sports blog posts supporting Kaepernick's right to protest during the national anthem. But by giving racist comments and the fight for Black equality comparable platforming, Barstool implies that racism is merely an ‘opinion’ on one side of the political aisle.
4. Barstool supports its army of “Stoolies” in their quest to harass and threaten other journalists.
In the exposé Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America, Julie DiCaro outlines how Laura Wagner, Miel Bredouw, Robert Silverman, Soledad O’Brien and countless other journalists have been victims of violent and disturbing online harassment, all for reporting on Barstool unfavorably. They have been doxxed, called “whores,” had their personal information shared online, and told they deserved to be raped and/or killed. While Barstool executives aren’t personally calling for the death of journalistic peers (though Portnoy did tell that Insider CEO he would have his head on a stick), they use their fans’ propensity for violence as a tool to prevent bad press. Portnoy appeals to his “Stoolie” Twitter base to defend him against allegations of misconduct, and according to Sidelined, Kevin Clancy (best known by his Barstool media personality name, “KFC”) once tweeted “If I was Julie DiCaro [Sidelined author] I’d be sleeping with one eye open. I’d be watching my back. Because the universe is coming for that ass.”
5. Barstool Sports continues to publish repugnant articles, even after being sold to third party media company Penn Entertainment.
In 2020, casino operator Penn Entertainment bought a 36% stake in Barstool Sports, and in 2022 it purchased the remaining shares of the company. What started as Barstool Sports has built an empire by producing articles like the recently published “This Girl Needs to Be On Your Radar: Sarah McKenzie,” quite literally a list of sexually provocative images of a new influencer. These are articles that encourage the dissection of a woman’s body, that give safe space for comments like “Don’t mind a tall glass of chocolate milk on the odd occasion,” and “Easy pass on this one. Like throwing a hotdog down a long dark highway. My guess is at least 3 abortions and many more ‘day after’ pills,” and “Whites only please.” This is the commentary you can find on this site. In 2022.
While Portnoy doesn’t own the company anymore, his legacy is the bedrock for Barstool's ideology and economic model. The type of content it platforms is deliberate. Barstool markets itself simultaneously as some rebellious haven in the midst of a contemporary culture war, and as apolitical content for just-your-average-guy. That strategy makes money– why would Penn Entertainment change it? Almost every college and university has affiliated social media. The company has partnerships with everything from High Noon to the Boston Bruins.
If there is anything I’ve learned in college, it’s that media is always art, and art is always political. Media represents and broadcasts the values of its writers, editors, and publishers. So I ask you sincerely: given its history, how does Barstool Sports content affect you as a reader who’s trying to be, in the words of Jim Ryan, “great and good?” Does it make that comment about how some outspoken girl deserves to be assaulted or that use of a racial slur seem a little less violent, and a little more humorous?
Yeah, Barstool Sports can be funny. But at what cost?