'It's just not fair': Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy defends his site against accusations of toxicity and misogyny

Barstool Sports founder Dave PortnoyBarstool SportsBarstool Sports

  • After a string of negative press accusing him of promoting a culture of sexual harassment and online trolling, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy is defending his controversial site.
  • Portnoy said Barstool is really just a comedy site that shouldn't be held to the same standards of behavior as a news site.
  • He pointed to female employees and women-hosted podcasts as evidence the company is female-friendly.

Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy is punching back at his critics.

The sports and culture blog has been under scrutiny lately by press coverage describing it as promoting sexual harassment and a trolling culture.

In July, The Washington Post reported that Portnoy disparaged a female employee's appearance on his radio show. Then in September, The Daily Beast published a story titled, "Inside Barstool Sports' Culture of Online Hate: 'They Treat Sexual Harassment and Cyberbullying as a Game.'" The next day, New York published "What Fresh Hell Is Barstool Sports?"

All three pieces detail how Portnoy's Barstool makes a business out of harassing women and others who criticize the site, enlists its fans to do the same, and refuses to back down.

Portnoy says Barstool won't apologize

As Portnoy tells it, Barstool is just defending itself against a small group of passionate "keyboard warriors" with "moral superiority" who use social media to attack him and would love to see Barstool go out of business.

"We never throw the first punch," Portnoy told Business Insider. "I really don't turn the other cheek. So when I feel like I'm being attacked, I don't back down. The easiest thing to say is, 'I'm sorry.' We don't do that."

Read more: Barstool Sports is launching a 'premium service,' and fans are already mocking it as 'officially dead'

According to Portnoy, every single criticism of Barstool has a perfectly reasonable explanation. Yet multiple outlets describe examples of Portnoy launching unprovoked personal attacks online in scorched-earth fashion.

Portnoy said the Washington Post's story about the female employee was all in the context of "busting balls on the radio."

"She got upset, but it was all in jest," he said. "The second this was over, we talked it over and we were fine. If this was CNN or Fox News and the CEO sat a girl down and said that, it'd be wildly inappropriate. We are a comedy reality show, and people treat us like we're a news network. It's just not fair."

ESPN host Sam Ponder has been a target of Portnoy. She publicly criticized Portnoy for making derogatory statements about her. Those revelations led to ESPN canceling a show with Barstool after just one episode. (As a reminder, Portnoy called her a "Bible-thumping freak," wrote that her job's "#1 requirement" was to "make men hard" and said she should be more "slutty.") 

Portnoy called Ponder a "vindictive bitch" (then congratulated himself on using "gender-neutral" language) and a liar and encouraged his fans to join in attacking her. 

Today, Portnoy says that he wished he hadn't used the word "slut." But he said that statement was one "off the cuff" sentence in an hour-long podcast in which Barstool criticized all sportscasters, while the "attacks made against Barstool are entire articles and planned out in advance with bad intentions." Ponder, through an ESPN spokesperson, declined to comment for this story.

When Deadspin's Laura Wagner wrote about the Ponder situation, Portnoy made ongoing sexually harassing comments about her across his media platforms, the Beast reported. Here again, Portnoy put the blame on Wagner. Wagner "took 50 shots at me," he said. "No one has hated me that much. Laura despises me and continues to take personal shots."

Asked for comment, Wagner shrugged: "It's so weird that that guy is still talking about me."

Attacks on women in sports media and near-porn slideshows on the site are evidence to critics that Barstool is misogynistic.

"Dave Portnoy is a misogynist and creep who has a long history of using his rabid army of trolls to bully and harass any woman who dares criticize him or Barstool," said Susie Banikarim, editorial director at Gizmodo Media Group, which includes Deadspin. "His longstanding inability to differentiate between accurate coverage and personal harassment speaks for itself. I honestly don't understand how his investors and advertisers continue to support him despite his behavior."

Portnoy says women think Barstool is a great place to work

Portnoy said it's just not true that Barstool is anti-women. He said it's hiring more women (though he didn't have specifics on their numbers and rank) and has some female-hosted podcasts. (He also points out that Barstool has a female CEO, Erika Nardini.)

"I gave two girls their own radio show," he said. "We have hired girl after girl - they say it's a great place to work." 

At a time when sexist male behavior is undergoing a reckoning, Barstool has tapped into an undercurrent of male resentment and has managed to paint itself as the underdog.

"People get mad at everything," Portnoy said. "We're sick of other people saying what other people should laugh at. People seem to have moral superiority."

Barstool has little incentive to tone it down, since the more defiant it is, the more its male audience laps it up and joins in the online outrage. On fan behavior, Portnoy said, "We make it very clear, we don't want our fans to say over-the-line things. But if someone is saying, 'I can't wait for Dave Portnoy to go out of business,' I don't care if our fans say, 'You're the worst.'"

Barstool's brand of humor can scare off advertisers, though, which is why Barstool is looking for ways to offset its reliance on ad revenue. Portnoy said the negative coverage has already had ESPN cancel a Barstool show in 2017 and led other networks to get cold feet. Once again, the message seems to be, Barstool is the victim.

"Barstool's going to have to scratch, claw for every eyeball, ear, and no one's coming to help us," he said.

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