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MLB’s Talks with Barstool Show the Cowardice of Both Rob Manfred and MLB Players

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Making money off of bigotry isn’t a business deal.

91st MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard

Right now, one of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars and reigning Cy Young winner, Trevor Bauer, is facing a hearing next week in a restraining order case and potential criminal charges for sexual assault, after a long and public history of racism, transphobia, and misogyny. At the same time, Cleveland’s baseball team has finally adopted a new name and jettisoned its old racist moniker. Late last year, MLB designated the Negro Leagues as a major league, elevating them and their players to the status they long deserved. You could be forgiven for believing that Major League Baseball was finally going to begin reckoning with the racism, misogyny, and bigotry of its past and present and begin looking towards a more equitable future.

You would be forgiven for believing that. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong.

On August 9, Andrew Marchand reported for the New York Post that Major League Baseball was in “significant negotiations” with the sports website Barstool about hosting games and MLB-sponsored gambling on the site.

Major League Baseball and Barstool Sports have had significant negotiations about having national midweek games on the site’s platforms, The Post has learned.

The discussions are what Barstool founder Dave Portnoy was referring to last week when he mentioned his company has had talks with “major leagues.”

MLB and Barstool potentially could team up to create a new type of broadcast with a focus on in-game gambling.

To show why even negotiating such a deal with Barstool is problematic (to put it mildly), let’s start with the site’s founder, Dave Portnoy. Portnoy has developed a reputation for being a racist misogynist because he is a racist misogynist who says appallingly racist and misogynistic things.

In a 2016 segment about former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, Portnoy says, “So I’m going to say something that’s racist,” explaining he thought Kaepernick was “an ISIS guy… Throw a head wrap on this guy, he’s a terrorist.” Portnoy adds, “He looks like a Bin Laden. That’s not racist.” Barstool’s Kevn “KFC” Clancy comments that Kaepernick “is not really that Black… I don’t think he speaks for Black people.”

Meanwhile, in a tweet by Portnoy from August 2016 (which has since been deleted), Portnoy included a picture of Kaepernick and Osama bin Laden side by side with the caption, “Anybody who disagrees with me saying Kaepernick looks like Bin Laden is a moron. #factsonly.”

Portnoy refused to apologize even when confronted by his own employees.

“I said to Dave, ‘for the people who work here and work for you, we’re kind of offended by it, so when you throw your middle fingers up at the cancel culture, you’re really throwing your middle fingers up at us,’” said Willie Colon, the host of Barstool’s 2Biggs podcast. “And he was like, ‘I hear you, but I have a bigger following than you, I write your checks, and the people who support me and Barstool help me write your checks, so fucking eat a dick.’”

Portnoy also defended blackface and joked with employees about putting Black people on leashes.

Portnoy in a 2018 segment recalls how Barstool sales guy Paul Gulczynski went “full blackface” on Halloween as Kevin Garnett with two Black friends. “If you do blackface with two Black guys, and they’re okay with it, you get a pass. You’re allowed to,” Barstool’s Clancy says in response. “You’ve gotta put them on a leash and have them next to you the whole time,” Dan “Big Cat” Katz laughs.

Portnoy went even further, calling himself “uncancellable” and basically bragging that he can be as racist as he wants. That response prompted at least one resignation from the company. This was fine with Portnoy, who instead of apologizing publicly told a Black employee to quit.

Nor can you say Portnoy has changed for the better. Earlier this year, he told Black NWHL player Saroya Tinker that she “should be in jail” for calling him and Barstool racist, and encouraged his followers to spew transphobic and racist vitriol at her.

But because Portnoy can’t be only one kind of awful, he is as misogynist as he is racist, saying in one online post “if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?” He later responded to the backlash by posting “Loosen up and fuck a broad. You may enjoy it. That’s me being a role model.”

It gets worse because of course it does. The Daily Beast reported that Portnoy engaged in a protracted harassment campaign against ESPN employee Samantha Ponder.

[Ponder] tweeted out screenshots of a 2014 Barstool blog post in which Portnoy called her a “BIBLE THUMPING FREAK” whose primary job requirement was to “make men hard.” In a podcast that same week, Portnoy went on a rant while [Dan] Katz egged him on, calling Ponder a “fucking slut” who should “sex it up and be slutty” instead of talking about being a working mother. ESPN canceled the TV show, Barstool Van Talk, after one episode, thanks in part to an internal pushback by more than a few ESPN employees, according to Sports Illustrated.

On Sept. 11, Ponder added a new allegation: Portnoy had said in a video that her daughter should have been aborted. Further, she claimed to have never wanted the network to pull the plug and was willing to make an appearance on their now-canceled show. Portnoy vehemently denies ever having made the abortion comment—though he and Katz admit they made disparaging remarks about Ponder’s daughter—and both Katz and Sollenberger insist Ponder had no interest in speaking with them and very much wanted their show gone.

* * *

While Katz made it clear both on Twitter and during a Barstool SiriusXM radio broadcast that he didn’t want anyone to “go after her,” Portnoy begged to differ. “I’m excited it’s not ending,” he said, barely suppressing his glee and promising that he would “slowly suffocate” Ponder online.

After the Deadspin article was published, Portnoy set his sights on the woman who reported the story, Laura Wagner, who has covered Barstool extensively. This too was on-brand. For over eight months, Portnoy has been making highly sexualized, harassing comments about Wagner, and very much implied he wants others to follow his lead. He’s done so on Twitter, in blog post after blog post, during “The Rundown,” and on Barstool radio. And no one associated with Barstool, from the site’s bloggers and podcasters to upper management, seems to care. Not enough to get Portnoy to stop, anyway.

South Side Sox published an incomplete timeline of some of the more egregious Barstool outrages from the last few years.

2010 Portnoy posts online “even though I never condone rape if you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?”

2012 “Blackout parties” where women are encouraged to black out from alcohol gain popularity due to promotion by Barstool Sports.

2015 Portnoy and company defends Barstool sales employee Paul Gulczynski for his straight-up blackface Kevin Garnett Halloween costume, saying it was OK because his two black friends gave him “a pass.”

2016 Barstool posts video of a chat with ex-Fox Sports reporter Emily Austen saying super charming things like “I didn’t even know Mexicans were smart,” and “You see, you guys know that the Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class,” and “The way I used to talk to the Jews in Boca. I just didn’t care. They would complain and bitch about everything.”

2017 ESPN cancels its relationship with Barstool after Portnoy calls ESPN Host Samantha Ponder a slut.

2018 Barstool blogger Adam Smith tells Joel Embiid to “Go back to Africa” other Barstool employees publicly creep on underaged women.

2019 Portnoy reaches a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board for illegally threatening to fire Barstool employees if they attempted to unionize.

And then there’s the transphobia. Rather than apologize for their racism and misogyny, Portnoy and Barstool tokenized transgender people and encouraged transphobic comments against transgender critics.

But there’s even more. Portnoy openly encourages and sells a cryptocurrency called “safemoon,” which experts have compared to a Ponzi scheme.

SafeMoon owns more than 50% of the liquidity and refuses to fix it. What is preventing them from selling everything and creating a rug pull, making it impossible for other traders to sell? All funds would be lost, and we would only be witness to an exit scam.

SafeMoon has also been compared to Bitconnect, which turned out to be nothing but a Ponzi Scheme, where any profits made in the future would be based on someone paying more for the token than you did further down the line. This would mean that early adopters would be the main beneficiary of the system, leaving only the scraps for late joiners.

I could go on because there are receipts on Portnoy and Barstool which could fill this entire site. The long and short of it is that Barstool generally, and Portnoy specifically, are racist, misogynistic, transphobic, and possibly con men as well. And if you’re a person of color or non-man online, you have almost certainly experienced harassment from Portnoy or Barstool.

None of this is a secret though. Major League Baseball knows this. Rob Manfred knows this. Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, knows this. But what we see is that they don’t care. Manfred went from talking about the need for MLB to participate in moving society towards a more racially just future to an alliance with a defender of blackface in a year’s time. We’re supposed to believe that MLB’s move of the All-Star Game from Atlanta was principled, whilst the league allies with a man who compares Colin Kaepernick to Osama bin Laden?

At the end of the day, like all bigots, Portnoy is a coward. But so is Manfred. Manfred is so blinded by greed that he will subordinate anything and everything to make money, even off of bigotry. And so is every member of the player’s union who will not stand up to people like Portnoy.

There is a reason that there are still no openly queer or non-male MLB players: the league’s culture. The league, through associations like this, makes it more acceptable to be a racist sexual predator than to be gay. We saw that with Trevor Bauer, and now we’re seeing it again with Barstool. Major League Baseball isn’t just ignoring its queer fans and fans of color. MLB is spitting in their faces and extending a hand of friendship to people to openly hate them. The message that MLB is sending from these negotiations is clear: “If you’re anything other than a straight white man, we don’t want you in or around Major League Baseball.” And make no mistake, the message has been received.

But that message has consequences. Choices have consequences, even beyond what is right and wrong. The beautiful thing about the 21st century is that now, finally, demographic shifts are allowing for bigotry to have real economic consequences. White men are now a minority of business owners in the United States. By 2045, white people will be a minority in the United States. Of course, MLB will still get its money from Barstool and everyone will become even more obscenely rich. But Barstool represents a world that’s ending, whether Portnoy and MLB want to admit it or not. Like all bigots, Portnoy is a small man terrified by the loss of societal privilege and control that has traditionally come with being a straight white man. The future looks more like Colin Kaepernick than Dave Portnoy, and that prospect terrifies people like Portnoy.

Sooner or later, MLB will realize that. Perhaps it will happen when Rob Manfred wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat about how old and white and male and straight his sport is and the sudden loss of profit that will mean. So the next time MLB wrings its hands and wonders why fewer and fewer Black players choose baseball, you’ll know why. The next time MLB wonders why its audience keeps getting older and whiter, you’ll know why. The next time MLB wonders why it’s hemorrhaging non-male fans, you’ll know why. This is an inflection point in the history of Major League Baseball. In a choice between right and wrong, MLB chose wrong. In a choice between acceptance and bigotry, MLB chose bigotry. In a choice between the future and the past, MLB chose the past.

Sheryl Ring is a consumer rights and civil rights attorney practicing in the Chicago, Illinois area. You can reach her on Twitter @Ring_Sheryl. This post is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, and does not create any attorney-client relationship.