Whether it be wrong or not, I have definitely engaged with Barstool Sports’ content. As a Midwest sports fan, particularly an Ohio State football fan, I have had good laughs with friends, sharing videos of the shenanigans on Ohio State University’s campus every gameday.
At first glance, the Barstool Sports Instagram page is relatively innocent. A lot of it reminds me of classic America’s Funniest Home Videos.
There are videos of people being devastatingly clumsy and little kids being funny. There is a lot of content of drunk people, namely American college students, doing very stupid things.
But Barstool is a hell of a lot more than entertaining clickbait. It is a sensationalized sports news publication that relies on hypermasculinity.
I think the increasing emphasis on inclusivity and gender equality in mainstream sports journalism is partly responsible for allowing Barstool’s corner of the internet to thrive. For instance, while ESPN regularly champions espnW, its platform highlighting women’s athletics, Barstool has capitalized on a latent will for traditional norms.
“What Barstool Sports does in being such an extreme website, and trying to frame that extremism in the form of entertainment, is desensitize people to what’s wrong in society,” Meghan Mahoney, director of programs at the Northeastern University Sport and Society Center, told the Boston Globe. “It’s billed as a website ‘for the common man, by the common man,’ but I would argue that most men in their daily lives would not find the sort of things promoted by Barstool Sports to be acceptable.’’
Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool, doesn’t pretend to be harmless: “There’s so much PC police. There’s so much, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ We’re the exact opposite. … It’s TMZ almost for guys.” The fact that Portnoy and his dedicated fan army, known as the “Stoolies,” own their recklessness certainly doesn’t forgive their behavior.
Many female sports reporters are scared to speak up out of fear of bullying from the Stoolies or Portnoy himself. However, sports writer Lindsay Gibbs bravely said, “Portnoy and his Stoolies treat sexual harassment and cyberbullying as a game.”
I need to do little to prove this assertion, one that Gibbs and I both back. Portnoy’s actions speak for themselves. The Daily Beast’s Robert Silverman has accumulated a tireless list, including Portnoy filming “a Barstool blogger in the shower without his consent,” asking if Harvey Weinstein should be able to trade movie roles for sex, ridiculing the appearance of multiple women in the media and using racial slurs in videos published to the Barstool Twitter account.
Women applying to work at Barstool report being offered a contract stating that they could not object to “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity and stereotyping” at Barstool, according to the Boston Globe. And when a Barstool intern who wore a “Cervix Killer” T-shirt to his interview sent sexually harassing texts to another intern, Portnoy’s response on the Barstool Sports website left much to be desired.
And somehow, this list is severely abridged. But as Barstool is repeatedly condemned for its repulsive behavior, it simultaneously enjoys booming success.
Barstool’s Instagram has 7.3 million followers. Portnoy has 1.7 million. He is a frequent contributor on Fox News and Fox Business and has been a mainstream news story himself, including one involving a dispute with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Maybe most disappointing is Barstool’s growing success with women. According to Barstool’s CEO Erika Nardini, women are “our fastest-growing category across podcasts, and video, and social.”
According to Yahoo Finance, Barstool’s content was divided into two groups: Barstool Sports and Barstool Chicks, and “since then, monthly page views to the Chicks section are up 90 [percent] and are nearing 2 million, or 25 [percent] of the site’s 8 million monthly views.”
By creating demand, women enable Portnoy and his internet army’s demeaning misbehavior. Whether it be through Portnoy’s direct harassment or the underlying ideas that his platform instills in young boys, women are always collateral.
No matter how magnetic Barstool’s internet content may be, women should not engage. We owe it to each other, and we owe it to ourselves, to disengage. And as a matter of fact, any true supporter of women’s rights and equality, regardless of gender, should do the same.
Georgia Tuckerman CM ’22 is from Columbus, Ohio. She’s a massive fan of Ohio State football and Cincinnati Reds baseball and loves to talk about the perception of women in sports journalism with anyone who will listen.