Barstool Sports must be held accountable for promoting toxicity

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In 2010, Barstool Sports creator Dave Portnoy wrote, “I never condone rape, but if you are a size 6 and wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped, right.” Twelve years later, Portnoy stands by his statements.

Barstool Sports has evolved into a multimedia company worth $450 million, amassing 13.6 million followers on their Instagram account alone. On the surface, Barstool Sports appears to be just another sports account on social media. In reality, Barstool Sports has become a place where toxic masculinity, racism, homophobia, sexism and other degrading messages thrive.

This “Barstool Sports Culture” has a far-reaching and rapidly growing influence, especially among impressionable young men. Therefore, it’s urgent to shed light on this culture that validates and emboldens toxic behavior.

We must identify the key causes, effects and solutions to this problematic Barstool Sports Culture. The causes of Barstool Sports Culture manifest themselves in two key ways, those being the promotion of toxic behaviors and a lack of accountability. Barstool’s promotion of toxic behavior is undeniable.

Graphic by Alexandria Darmody.

A Media Matters article from Aug. 18, 2021, documents countless examples of this toxic behavior. We need only look at recurring  “games” on Barstool’s blog: “Guess that Ass,” “Guess the Rack” and “Twerk Tuesdays.” What’s worse, these images are uploaded without any consent from the women. The comments are filled with Barstool boys objectifying women’s bodies and seeing them as nothing more than an object of pleasure for themselves.

The issues with Barstool extend into overt racism. Resist Programming tweeted out a video about Barstool on June 29, 2020. In the video, Barstool employees questioned the validity of a hate crime against black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, when a noose was hung in his garage.

Employees said “You’d have to be fucking stupid” to not have doubts.

These ideas then become enculturated in their followers’ actions. According to Similarweb.com’s November 2021 web traffic analysis of Barstool Sports, the site averaged 8.3  million hits from June to November 2021 alone. Barstool has created an empire that profits off the teaching and celebration of toxic behavior. This leads us directly into our second cause: Barstool’s complete lack of accountability.

On Feburary 3, 2022,  Insider updated their November 2021 story in which three women accused Portnoy of sexual abuse. The update came after three more women came forward. Portnoy filmed a sexual encounter without one of the women’s consent and interacted with her in other nonconsensual ways. Following the publication, Portnoy called the story a “hit piece.”

Ryan Whittney, host of Barstool Sports’ hockey podcast “Spittin Chicklets,” responded that his podcast wouldn’t exist without Portnoy, and that he believed Portnoy’s side of the story. Instead of supporting a victim, Barstool Sports defended an alleged abuser. This lack of accountability teaches susceptible young viewers that this type of behavior is acceptable in society.

It’s not just the company; Barstool fans also have a history of attacking female journalists. The Daily Beast reported on March 14, 2019, that female journalists have had to deactivate their social media accounts because Barstool fans have harassed them for their reporting of Barstool. These female reporters only spoke to the Daily Beast because they could remain anonymous, fearing that if they were public, the harassment would start.

There are two critical effects of Barstool Sports Culture: its expanding sphere of influence and the creation of an echo chamber.

One distinguishing factor of Barstool is its many collegiate affiliates. At least 350 universities have Barstool accounts. They are not affiliated with the universities, but they’re under Barstool’s influence. These expose many college students to this toxic rhetoric and activity.

It’s not just these affiliates that show Barstool’s expansion. Streaming service Sling TV announced on Sept. 3, 2021, that it will offer exclusive content, with Barstool getting its own channel on the streaming service, perpetuating Barstool Sports Culture.

A second effect is the entrenchment of an echo chamber. NBC News discussed how Barstool uses ideas of traditional masculinity to gain an audience in their article from Sept. 21, 2019.

Professor Lisa Nakamura of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor states, “I think Barstool is a nostalgic callback to the idea that the more offensive you are, the more free you’re being, and it’s also a kind of cultural preservation project for bros.”

The article goes on to explain that Barstool’s followership almost doubled on Twitter in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Barstool boys wanted to find a place to have their sexist and misogynistic views heard.

This echo chamber is also spotted on Barstool’s own posts. On Aug. 29, 2021, Barstool’s blog post mocked a July 2021 study conducted by Brigham Young University that concluded that boys who embrace “princess culture” are less likely to show traits of toxic masculinity, calling it “Possibly the worst study ever.”

The author of the blog stated, “Now, I was a boy once. I was exposed to princess culture at an early age … I can promise you that the big take away from these movies in regards to gender and princesses or whatever is that I wanted to f*** them.”

Instead of embracing new ideas, Barstool denigrates what they don’t agree with. The expanding sphere of influence, coupled with the echo chamber, makes Barstool the cesspool it is.

On a national scale, we need to reach out to major sports leagues and media companies, such as the MLB and Sling, who have shown sympathy to Barstool. In an article from Aug. 9, 2021, the Minnesota Star-Tribune explains the MLB and Barstool are in talks about the potential for midweek MLB games to be streamed on Barstool.

In this link.tree at https://linktr.ee/garrettd79, you will find a letter you can mail to your favorite or local MLB teams, demanding they tell the MLB to stop interacting with Barstool and threatening that if they follow through, you will not attend games or watch them on TV.

The MLB and Sling should follow the lead of ESPN. As the New York Times reported on Oct. 23, 2017,  ESPN walked away from its short-lived partnership with Barstool because it couldn’t defend Barstool’s reputation of toxic behavior.

On a personal level, join my “Boycott Barstool” campaign on my Instagram account, @boycottbarstool, to spread awareness on the horrors of Barstool Sports. If you currently follow Barstool, unfollow. Report abusive content. Share this information with your friends who share Barstool content.

Be aware of what products Barstool owns and profits from, including the classic “Saturdays are for the boys” flag and the popular alcoholic drink Pink Whitney. Barstool is an online platform, so eliminating opportunities for revenue and rallying outside pressure will force Barstool to change or be ostracized.

For years, Barstool has promoted toxic views to my generation. It’s about time they were held accountable.

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