There's an audience that would see the title of this post and immediately dismiss it. I used to be one of those people. In fact, I still don't like Barstool. But I'm much more apathetic than I used to be because frankly, Barstool isn't as terrible as I once thought. Their most recent feud with the NWHL shows the depths of the persecution. It also shows why, despite the persecution, they keep winning.
Erika Nardini, CEO of Barstool Sports, hosted two NWHL players on her podcast because she's an ardent supporter of the NWHL. Multiple players and reporters called out Nardini because of her association with Barstool, a company with a history of toxic bro culture ardent with sexism. I know, shocking for a sports website. Certainly, it shouldn't be tolerated. But an analysis of each case shows a rapid evolution of a cancel culture culminated in the most recent craziness.
After Nardini tweeted a video to her "haters" which didn't censor out their pictures or user names, those reporters and players reportedly saw an influx of hate to their inboxes, something I can't confirm because when it comes to Barstool, there seems to be only labels and not much evidence provided. I'm not saying it doesn't exist, I'm just saying every linked story is multiple years old. Every time I hear about them in the news currently, it's about The Barstool Fund that has raised $32 million for small businesses in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even today, amidst this fire that's being directed towards Barstool, billionaire investor Chamath Palihapitiya announced he was donating all $500,000 of his profits from his GameStop position to The Barstool Fund.
Expectedly, Nardini has been criticized and accused of directing an attack on her has been relentless and perhaps deservedly so, in some aspects. And predictably, Barstool founder and all-time internet beef king Dave Portnoy entered the fray. This is a business model for them. A black NWHL player replied to Portnoy calling him a "white supremacist". I don't know when a black person can accuse someone of being a white supremacist. And I don't need to come to the aid of someone who associates with Tucker Carlson but there seems to be a pretty casual usage of that accusation without proof. The racist label comes from Portnoy's past use of the N-word, something he's done twice, once while rapping along with a song and once while putting a prefix on it to disparage another nationality. I'm from a rural midwestern town. Systemic racism is real and the vehicle for which white supremacy operates. Quite frankly, I can't believe Portnoy's had a microphone in front of him for as long as he has and he hasn't said worse. He's a rich, white conservative and honestly, that may be the bar for white supremacy in society today. But the accusation felt flippant, the proof seems debatable, and the evidence provided by the accuser is none. It may very well be true. Just tell me why.
But more disappointing to me is the reaction from the league and the players, coming together as one as if they've been attacked as an institution. The commissioner released a statement condemning anyone "calling out" reporters or players and ensured that they'll "get through this together with open communication and transparency." I'm not quite sure what they've got to get through. It seems like they are implying or have implied that their receiving harsh, racist or violent, backlash from Barstool fans but there's provided evidence or screen shots anywhere.
Once again I'm not inclined to defend a Tucker Carlson shill. This does seem like a convenient time to point out that unlike Tucker, Portnoy is entirely self made, building his $15 billion empire from the ground up. But more than anything I'm bothered by the journalistic practices at place in this feud. The two articles I'm citing are written by different journalists who have both written negative Barstool pieces in the past. The feud is definitely personal and that's entirely ok. Someone has to fight the fights. But it certainly needs to be entered into the court of public opinion. Marisa Ingemi wrote a piece for Vice that claimed one of Portnoy's "emergency live streams", as he calls them, was "riddled with inaccuracies" and accused him of "mocking" a former player who was severely injured on the ice. The claims of inaccuracies are provided with no mention of specifics and the mocking is left for the reader to decipher. Did he move his hands like Trump did when speaking of a disabled reporter? No, he said this in his "emergency press conference", "Erika...Probably the number one supporter of the NWHL. You probably didn't know it existed. The only reason I know it existed, don't let the headlines fool you, is because back in 2013, a girl Denna Lang, got a spinal cord injury playing in the Winter Classic in Boston and guess what company drew attention to it and raised one hundred grand and raised more attention to it and brought more money to the cause? We did." If that is "mocking" the player it was the softest mock I've ever seen. The evidence becomes even flimsier when you watch the heartwarming mini-documentary Barstool made when it happened. Can we really report that he's mocking this player without considering any evidence? There was no explanation of the mocking accusation I'd bet most would assume his words were much harsher than reminding everyone what Barstool did for her.
The second piece of less than questionable comes from USA Today FTW writer Hemal Jhaveri who embarrassed herself in an attempted "gotcha" moment. From the piece, “'There’s no white supremacy here,' host Willie Colon said. Colon didn’t acknowledge Portnoy’s past use of the N-word, his doubling down on a refusal to apologize, and that Barstool had a podcast which used the N-word in its title." Colon is former NFL player and black Barstool employee Willie Colon. That podcast she's referring to was hosted by Colon and another black barstool employee, Brandon Newman, and was a transparent conversation about Portnoy's use of the word in the past and their thoughts on racism and how it relates to their employer. To denigrate that podcast to a bullet point used to prove racism invalidates the opinion of those black men on racism. It's not just misleading, it's morally wrong. There has to be journalistic standards in place. Words have meaning. There was no mocking in Portnoy's video and Colon wouldn't have mentioned the N word podcast because he hosted it.
Barstool sucks. The bro-culture is what it is built on. They're anti-union, even illegally so, but it's important to note that they are known for their good treatment of loyal writers, something other non-ESPN sports blogs aren't famous for. And this business model continues to work. Barstool's loyal fans continue to provide support in droves; Portnoy has famously said he's uncancellable. He has a President Trump-ian quality to him, which makes him very hate-able. But he's not the president. I condemn the racism and the sexism Barstool has exhibited in the past. This is a sports brand, if there's ever a place for "locker room talk", it's here. That doesn't mean it's ok, but what it does mean is that it has numerous podcasts and a massive audience to spread white supremacy if they want to. They're not the Proud Boys but the NWHL is acting like the Charlottesville protestors are marching in. That's a gross misrepresentation to what is happening. As for Barstool? Well it's just business as usual. Another battle; no loyal readers lost. They're already selling shirts re: the feud, "the haters are the marketing department" says Erika Nardini.