Barstool Sports defines itself as a sports media company but oftentimes comes across as anywhere between a social experiment, platform for the objectification of women, a manifesto for the ‘bros,’ and in many ways, a radical political statement. Beneath the sports coverage and Instagram videos depicting wild parties, Barstool is the boys' locker room, amplified. The leader of the Barstool pack, Dave Portnoy, is the personification of what Barstool represents. His recent slew of sexual assault allegations is the cherry on top of Portnoy’s reputation as a misogynist.
Dave Portnoy, who self–identifies as “El Presidente,” is the President of Barstool Sports. On November 4, 2021, Business Insider released an article accusing Portnoy of sexual misconduct on multiple occasions. According to the 4,000–word Insider report, one of Portnoy’s victims shared messages she sent to a friend after an encounter with him: “It was so rough I felt like I was being raped ... I was literally screaming in pain.”
Portnoy responded to the report with videos posted to his Twitter in which he denied Insider’s allegations. Portnoy says that the article, which he deems a “hit–piece,” portrays him as “a sexual deviant.” He denies the claims by two women, who were respectively 19 and 20–years–old at the time of their meetings with Portnoy at his house in Nantucket.
In the videos, Portnoy claims that one of his alleged victims’ “version of events is not true.” “I can say this unequivocally ... At no point was [the sexual encounter] not one hundred percent consensual. At no point did she ask me to stop. At no point did either of us think something unseemly happened,” Portnoy says.
Portnoy addresses the second victim by referring to her testimony as “he–said, she–said.” Insider reports that the victim was hospitalized for mental health reasons days after her meeting with Portnoy. He denies the allegations and attempts to “prove” his innocence with screenshots of Instagram direct messages in which the 19–year–old woman asked to see Portnoy again. According to a Cut article, the victim's mother didn’t publicly report the incident in fear of being "dragged through the mud" by Portnoy.
Many people criticized Barstool Sports on other issues before Portnoy’s allegations surfaced. The company’s political incorrectness on social media stands opposite to 'snowflake' liberalism and women who oppose objectification from men. One of Barstool’s traditions, akin to its questionable Internet presence, is the recurring “Barstool Smokeshows,” an Instagram account home to thousands of photos of young women paired with suggestive captions.
The smokeshows share a major similarity: they all adhere to the societal image of how young women are supposed to look. If you aren’t a skinny white girl with D–cups and a Kim Kardashian–sized butt, you don’t check the boxes to be a smokeshow.
However, “Smokeshows” aren’t the only example of Barstool’s objectification of women to build their brand. In the past, the Barstool website featured challenges called “Guess That Rack” and “Guess That Ass.” These blog posts contained a series of zoomed–in soft pornographic images followed by an Instagram handle of the woman in the photos. The compensation for the sexual pleasure of Barstool’s audience goes straight to Portnoy’s media conglomerate, not to the women objectified in the process.
In addition to blog posts and various social media accounts, the Barstool Sports umbrella advertises multiple podcasts. One such podcast is Call Her Daddy, hosted by Alexandra Cooper. Call Her Daddy was owned by Barstool until June 2021, when Cooper signed an exclusive deal with Spotify. Since its inception in 2018, Call Her Daddy has taken streaming services by storm. Cooper, a content creator and Boston University graduate, takes controversial approaches to promote what she deems as sexual empowerment among her female listeners.
Spotify describes Call Her Daddy as “a women–led empire [that] produces raw, relevant and provocative conversations that promote sexual liberty and personal empowerment while stripping away any barriers of judgement.” However, Cooper’s podcast seems to define “sexual liberty” as participation in hookup culture, cheating on partners, and treating sex as a game that heterosexual women must strive to win against their male partners.
These expectations are unfair, misleading, and toxic, especially for college–age listeners. It’s vital that young people have role models that promote healthy approaches to sex and sexuality. Call Her Daddy doesn’t actually cater to unique sexual identities—or frankly, any identity that isn’t heterosexual. Instead, Cooper claims that women can only be satisfied by their sexual relationships and partners through hypersexuality and competition. As the fifth most–streamed podcast on Spotify in 2020, many young women are impressed by Cooper and her big sister–like advice. However, like “Smokeshows,” Call Her Daddy is just another facet of Barstool Sports that only appeals to and celebrates a certain type of woman.
The female audience isn’t the only group impressionable to the Barstool Sports message. Barstool teaches college–age men that their purpose as college students is to participate in frat culture, have meaningless sex, and grow into minions of Dave Portnoy’s influence. Barstool embraces the boys–will–be–boys mentality, implying that to be a man, it is necessary to treat women with disrespect.
According to The Huffington Post, one of Portnoy’s controversial takes was a message to critics of Barstool: “College is too short to waste your time being a killjoy ... Loosen up and f**k a broad. You may enjoy it. That’s me being a role model.” That says all you need to know about Portnoy.
Dave Portnoy and his "Stoolies" (Barstool's fanbase nickname) defend their platform by minimizing the backlash they receive. They deem their harmful behaviors as 'satirical' and their opponents as hypersensitive individuals who don’t understand comedy. However, there’s nothing comical about perpetuating misogyny in sports, social media, and college cultures.
Dave Portnoy’s response to Insider article’s allegations is characteristic of the person he has always been: a toxic individual who is unable to take accountability for his actions. Barstool’s ferocious judgment of young women by their appearance, Call Her Daddy’s limited approaches to female empowerment, and Dave Portnoy’s predatory behaviors tarnish Barstool’s innocent overly simplistic 'sports media company' label.