Mazurek: Barstool needs a wake-up call
Marek Mazurek | Thursday, October 26, 2017
I’m about to do something I don’t do a lot: praise ESPN.
The network too often obscures the work of its talented reporters with “hot takes” by personalities like Stephen A. Smith.
But I’m all about giving credit where credit is due, and John Skipper — ESPN’s president — deserves a bunch of it for canceling Barstool Van Talk.
In a press release, Skipper justified the decision to shut the show down by saying, “While we had approval on the content of the show, I erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.”
The reason I applaud the cancellation? Barstool’s content, just like Skipper said.
The founder of Bartsool, David Portnoy, has described “Stoolies” as regular, fun-loving people who don’t want to be told what to do.
“Stoolies are people who have senses of humor,” Portnoy wrote. “They are people who have raised millions for charity. They are people who like to drink beer and have fun. They like having sex. … Nobody has the right to tell us what we can laugh at and what we can’t.”
If that’s all Barstool is, then that’s fine. But the problem is that in the Barstool brand there exists an underlying misogyny to its “sense of humor.” And sometimes that misogyny is downright explicit.
For instance, ESPN reporter Samantha Ponder was outspoken in her distaste for Barstool on Twitter lashing back at Portnoy for telling her job’s “#1 requirement is you make men hard.”
In a 2014 podcast in reference to Ponder, Portnoy told her to “sex it up and be slutty.” In the background of the audio, you can hear Dan “Big Cat” Katz — one of the hosts of Barstool Van Talk — laughing as Portnoy calls Ponder’s child a “rat kid.” It’s about eight minutes in if you don’t believe me.
Another highlight of Barstool “sense of humor” is Portnoy’s post in 2014 in which he vows to bring back the word c—.
Or maybe a better example would be when the site leaked photos of Tom Brady’s 2-year-old son, Benjamin, naked, with Portnoy commenting that Benjamin had a “big howitzer” referring to the child’s genitals.
Or better yet, if you go to Barstool’s site, you can go to the “Smokeshow” section which features half-naked women. Or if you want your sexism to have clothed, you can check out one of Jerry Thornton’s regular pieces on the site where he grades the attractiveness of teachers accused of having sex with students.
I know that Barstool is popular and some of you reading this may be fans. Know that I’m not accusing any of you for being misogynistic. But I am asking you to think about what you’re consuming and supporting.
I understand that it’s possible to like one aspect of something, while condemning another. For instance, I love the music of Guns n’ Roses, but I don’t support the band’s drug use.
Or if we want to talk about sports outlets, you can like ESPN overall, but dislike Stephen A. Smith’s bloviating in particular.
But Smith isn’t the founder and president of ESPN.
David Portnoy is the founder and president of Barstool.
He sets the agenda for the whole site. His attitudes toward women permeates through Barstool, making both explicit and implicit sexism more accepted in sports culture.
ESPN’s decision to cancel Barstool Van Talk, however, puts Barstool at an important crossroads. PFTCommenter and his show “Pardon My Take” — arguably Barstool’s most popular show — have the chance to break with the Barstool brand which is clearly weighing them down.
It’s also somewhat ironic that PFTCommenter often plays the part of an ill-informed person full of brash statements in a Stephen Colbert-esq way, since the rest of Barstool’s site is full of stories and videos adopting that very same tone.
Similarly, this cancellation could have been a much-needed wakeup call to Portnoy and the rest of Barstool’s leadership.
But “El Pres” held an “emergency press conference” immediately after the fact and ranted about a number of things and ended by doubling down on the brand as it is. You can now even buy “Barstool vs. everybody” shirts.
So much, for branding themselves as people who don’t care what anyone thinks.
The fact that ESPN hired Barstool talent for a show speaks to how popular the brand is. Clearly something about sports commentary not being politically correct resonates with a lot of people.
But there’s a difference between bucking political correctness and calling female reporters “sluts.” There’s a difference between being out-of-the-box and showing pictures of a naked toddler and commenting on the size of his penis.
Barstool doesn’t know where the difference is, but it needs to learn. Fast.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.