Again, I’m sorry. I wish I didn’t have to. But here we are, less than 48 hours separated from the debut of Barstool Van Talk, the newest show on ESPN that features the so-called “talent” of Barstool Sports.
If you haven’t previously heard of Barstool Sports, well, you’re probably lucky. Barstool is a “sports and men’s lifestyle” blog that operates most closely to a glorified version of Total Frat Move or Do It 4 State, but for grown men who have most likely not matured much past their fraternity hazing semester of freshman year.
They’re best known for coining the phrase “Saturdays are for the boys,” a mantra quickly picked up by guys who like to drink lots of beer and post Instagrams of themselves drinking lots of beer. A regularly updated section of their site is the “Barstool Local Smokeshow of the Day” which basically just entails a bunch of pictures of the latest scantily clad woman that the staff has decided to drool over that day. One of the last headlines I saw on the blog read, “Is Rihanna going to make being fat the hot new trend?”
Don’t get me wrong — I understand that this is a satirical website and, like any other satirical publication, most of its content should be taken with a grain of salt. This is, after all, the same website in which authors go by names such as “Handsome Hank” or “Gay Pat.” I despise Barstool Sports due to the consistency of sexism, homophobia and racism in its content, but I’m not going to waste anyone’s time crying for every mindless, crass blog to be removed from the internet.
But that’s no reason to bring it into the mainstream, and there’s especially no reason to give it airtime on the most powerful sports channel in the world.
At a time when the sports world is fighting harder than ever to drive out these same issues of sexism, racism and homophobia, it seems tasteless and downright stupid for ESPN to bring this outlet on board. And it sends a message that left many sports journalists — male and female — outraged.
One such journalist was Sam Ponder, the host of Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN, who posted the following excerpt that was written by Barstool Sports president David Portnoy (and edited to avoid printing an excess of expletives) in 2014:
“Editor’s note — I know Feits [Barstool blogger Feitelberg] blogged this already. But I wrote it up too because I’m fired the f-ck up. F-CK SAM PONDER THAT BIBLE THUMPING FREAK … this dumb. Seriously you sound like a KO Barstool freak, not a chick that has a job where the #1 requirement is you make men hard. So give it a rest with your righteous indignation. Your entire career and livelihood is based on appealing to guys like me and blogs like ours. Bottomline is guys thinking chicks are hot is natural. It’s Darwinism. It’s never gonna change. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect women and think it’s okay to hit a woman. I have no idea what’s so confusing about that. Go f-ck yourself.”
In attempting to explain how Barstool Sports respects women — and in later addressing the tweet by Ponder — both Portnoy and the star of the new Barstool Sports show, Dan Katz, refused to apologize and continued to use aggressively disrespectful language toward women. The blog’s groupies are even more aggressive, and I couldn’t scroll through Ponder’s mentions without feeling physically sick.
Look, I get that ESPN needs to make money. Cord cutting, live streaming and Twitter are all draining the company’s
once-steady stream of income. The market is changing. But pandering to low brow humor doesn’t fit with the brand, the message or the ideals that ESPN has previously attempted to instill.
And the addition of Katz to the ESPN crew makes the recent suspension of SportsCenter anchor Jemele Hill absolutely mind boggling. If the publication wants to suspend all staffers based on their Twitter activity, that’s up to its discretion. But how, then, will Katz not be immediately suspended for the last week’s content — which is laden with expletives and sex jokes — on his account?
The most clear signal that a publication is pandering to its audience is when its previous logic begins to fail. That couldn’t be more true with ESPN and Barstool Sports. Sure, the first show did fairly well with ratings, most likely due to the aforementioned groupies, but at what cost? ESPN should take a long hard look at what it stands to lose by continuing to pander.
I’ve had a few friends attempt to defend the value of Barstool to me, and I’ve honestly struggled to respect that opinion even before this week. For example — the day after the debut of the new show, Barstool’s Instagram account posted a picture of a pumpkin involving sexual innuendo with the caption, “Real talk: Is this pumpkin tryna get the pipe? Discuss.”
I’ll repeat — this publication makes sex jokes about pumpkins.
Is that really the brand you want to cultivate? I’m well aware that many sports fans can be empty-headed jocks, but that’s not the majority. Most of us who watch sports want content that involves analysis and avoids vulgar jokes. Believe me, it’s not that we can’t take a joke. It’s just not funny.
ESPN, please take out your trash.
Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Thursdays.