Barstool Sports feeds toxic masculinity and fandom
Considering that the economy of the internet is based on how big of a mouth you have, it’s not surprising that David Portnoy, founder and mouthpiece of Barstool Sports, is a multimillionaire with a company valued at around $100 million. There is a long list of controversies to Portnoy’s name — the time he called well-known sports commentator Peter King a “fat f—ing bitch,” the time he said a 20-year-old female employee is too ugly to work for him, and many more. A week ago, a Twitter video of his that landed in my timeline by way of retweet caught my eye.
The tweet has a video attachment that reads: “My calm and rational thoughts on Todd Gurley.” At the time of writing, it has 1,305 retweets and 8,290 likes, a little above the average for Portnoy. As for the so-called “calm and rational thoughts” in the video, Portnoy proceeds to tell the world that Gurley, the Los Angeles Rams’ running back, deserves to die for stopping short of the goal line with less than a minute left (in a win), especially when the betting spread on the game is -7.5 points and a touchdown would put the Rams up by 9. Not to mention the threats towards Gurley’s physical health, where Portnoy says, “If God had any respect for the game, both his ACL’s would have blown out.” Portnoy stops just short of saying that Gurley’s family deserves to die too, but he does make sure to tell people that his house deserves to burn to the ground.
It’s now been a week since Portnoy wrote the tweet, and there is little reaction in the world of news. There is no apology by Portnoy to Gurley. I found the relevant tweet after scrolling through a few dozen tweets advertising the line of merchandise he started selling after the Boston Red Sox won the World Series. He found it in his good heart to give his customers 10 percent off the gear, even though he wants to give it away for free, according to another tweet. Life has gone on as usual.
Portnoy’s rant could be construed as some elaborate joke, but to say it is a joke is to ignore all of the sociopolitical contexts of when and why Portnoy is saying that Gurley should die, as well as the lack of simple human empathy towards another person. Toxic masculinity has always been part of sports culture, with the celebration of men behind anonymous masks putting their future cerebral health on the line for our entertainment; sports are an acceptable outlet for most men, and they are always going to exist like that. However, there are larger implications at play in Portnoy’s rant.
About a month ago, The Daily Beast published an article about Portnoy’s journalistic loudspeaker, Barstool Sports, and the article, titled “Inside Barstool Sports’ Culture of Online Hate,” captures the purpose of his Twitter rant in one sentence: “Portnoy…and fans of his site did what they always do: ratcheted up an online spat to a fever pitch, transforming their collective rage at a perceived enemy into content.” This new form of journalism, increasingly popular and monetized, is disseminated by a caricature of the identity that the “journalist” — Portnoy in this case — intends to monetize for their own gain. Portnoy is playing the toxic and angry male sports fan that Barstool Sports’ audience eats up and relates to. The rhetoric of his content contributes to negativity of fan culture that faces no concrete consequences. Portnoy fails to see the person hiding behind the helmet as a person, and sees him more as an object solely dedicated to his entertainment and monetary needs.
According to Portnoy, if Todd Gurley doesn’t do what fans “need” him to do, then he deserves to die. What does an athlete even “need” to do for fans? They are paid to entertain, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t human. Never mind that Gurley and the Rams won the game. Nevermind the fans betting for the Ram’s opponent that day to beat the betting spread, or the fans entertained by conservative football, not “drive up the score” football. Right now, we are caught in a struggle to determine whose reality is the most grounded with groups like Barstool Sports, and every day that they remain profitable and relevant online is another day closer to living in a reality where athletes are viewed solely as commodified objects and the norm is a cavalier attitude towards the humanity of athletes.