There’s a beloved cultural joke that Jews are nowhere in sports — but that’s not true.
You don’t have to look back as far as Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg. We brought the world the last Super Bowl MVP, Julian Edelman. Olympian Aly Raisman is one of the finest athletes in the world. And this week alone, a Jewish teen was the number one pick in the NHL draft, and a Jewish wrestler became a WWE champion.
And one Jew, Dave Portnoy, plays a role in sports that involves zero athleticism but has phenomenal influence. Portnoy is the founder and de-facto editor in chief of Barstool Sports, a popular online blog that hosts male patter about balls, breasts, and gossip. A breeding ground for what we would now call Incels, Barstool offers sports commentary for “young men who say they are disenfranchised by the mainstream media,” as NBC put it.
In a new documentary from the HBO series “Real Sports,” reporter Soledad O’Brien reveals that she asked fifteen women for interviews about their experiences working at Barstool Sports, or working in connection to the publication. Two women said they would agree to an interview if HBO would be able to provide them with security after the show aired, if needs be. A third refused, saying, “She didn’t want to be bombarded with rape threats.” In the end, only one woman was interviewed in the segment: Barstool’s CEO, Erika Nardini.
But according to 21-year-old Barstool employee Ria Ciuffo, HBO interviewed her for an hour. Her words didn’t appear on the segment, she said, because “people want to call Barstool ‘misogynistic.’” Ciuffo says she told O’Brien that working at Barstool as a woman is “Great, because I have a voice at this booming media company that I wouldn’t have anywhere else.” Cutting her from the show, Ciuffo wrote for Barstool on Wednesday, is ” more misogynistic than what people want to make Barstool out to be.”
Ciuffo was at the center of one of Barstool’s major controversies — in 2017 during an episode of Barstool Radio, Portnoy said of Ciuffo, “She’s not going to be able to put her face in front of a camera in five years, because people will throw up.” The segment ended, Deadline reports, with Ciuffo crying as Portnoy, who is 42, chanted, “I will not apologize.”
“When Soledad asked me how I felt about when Dave made me cry I said I was happy it happened and that’s true,” Ciuffo wrote in her Wednesday article.
Portnoy has exposed himself to a number of controversies — in 2017 he called female ESPN host Sam Ponder “a f*****g slut” whose reason for being on ESPN was to “make men hard.” In 2011, Boston police had to ask Portnoy to remove from the site naked photos of Patriots player Tom Brady’s 20-month-old son. In September, the Daily Beast wrote about Barstool’s “culture of online hate,” including Portnoy’s ongoing harassment toward Laura Wagner, a female reporter who has covered Barstool. (Portnoy jokes, among other things, that he’d like to trap her at gunpoint.) The same month, Barstool acknowledged — but did not apologize — that the site had stolen digital content from a young female comedian.
As the Daily Beast noted in their 2018 article, for Barstool, none of these are gaffes or PR disasters. They’re good for business.
“The online harassment by Portnoy and in turn by Barstool’s most devoted fans — largely young, white men or “Stoolies,” as they’re known — is a feature of the site, not a bug,” Robert Silverman wrote.
When a male boss tells a female employee her loss of looks will mean a loss of job, or when women decline to be interviewed about your company, fearing rape threats — well, don’t look to the headlines. Look to the bottom line.
[Correction, June 28, 2019: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the reporter harassed by Portnoy. Her name is Laura Wagner, not Liz Wagner.]
Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny