Barstool Sports founder president Dave Portnoy yet again has gleefully engineered a targeted harassment campaign against a woman who he thinks wronged his company.
It started Tuesday night, when ESPN NFL Countdown host Sam Ponder addressed a comment on her Instagram story that blamed her for Barstool’s short-lived ESPN TV show, Barstool Van Talk, getting canceled last fall. At the time, Ponder was critical of ESPN’s partnership with Barstool because Portnoy once called her a slut on a podcast (while toady Dan Katz laughed), and later wrote that Ponder’s only job is to “make men hard.” On her Instagram story, she said:
“I specifically told those who asked that I did NOT want their show cancelled and that I’d gladly be a guest on their show to discuss how their president made a video saying [daughter] Scout should have been aborted. But OKAY.”
(Portnoy has denied making a comment about Ponder’s daughter. Multiple representatives for Ponder did not respond to questions about the comment, and emails to her ESPN email address bounced back.)
Shortly after Ponder posted on her Instagram story, the Barstool harassment machine revved its engine with both Portnoy and Katz—who co-hosts the Pardon My Take podcast with Eric Sollenberger, also known as PFT Commenter—repeatedly calling her a liar. Katz aired his grievance on Twitter:
Portnoy then wrote a post on Barstool headlined “In The Face Of Plunging Ratings And Unheard of Unpopularity Sam Ponder Has Resorted To Flat Out Lying About Barstool Sports To Save Her Job At ESPN,” in which he denied ever saying that Ponder should have aborted her daughter. (In a video posted on Barstool the next day, Portnoy congratulated himself for not calling Ponder a “bitch” in the post, and instead calling her an “asshole.”)
As any woman in sports media who has drawn the ire of Barstool in the past can tell you, tweets and blog posts from the site’s employees are a precursor to sustained harassment from the site’s rabidly misogynistic fanbase. Portnoy understands this just as well as anyone else, and spent yesterday encouraging Ponder’s harassment.
Portnoy then went on the radio to talk about his intent to “slowly suffocate” Ponder in an “internet online war.”
“I’m excited, it’s not ending,” said Portnoy. “I will get #samponderlies trending.”
Katz responded by saying that he did not want to get the hashtag trending on Twitter, and only wanted to “make people laugh.” He added that he “will stand up for myself and for you when she blatantly lies about us.”
“I like to make them laugh through pain,” responded Portnoy, which elicited a grin and a “hell yeah” from one of the other freaks in the radio booth.
Katz’s stated desire to just move on and have some chuckles with his buddies was apparently not enough to curtail his boss’s sociopathic behavior. Portnoy began selling a T-shirt depicting Ponder as a clown, and tweeted a video portraying himself and Ponder as characters in a scene from Game Of Thrones, in which a female character is paraded naked through the streets so that she can be shamed and humiliated:
Though this behavior would seem to go against Barstool CEO Erika Nardini’s stated “zero-tolerance harassment policy,” she did not respond to a question asking her what she is doing, either publicly or privately, to stop the president of her company from tormenting Ponder. Neither did Mike Kerns, the president of digital at Chernin Group, the company that owns Barstool.
I asked Sollenberger—who co-hosted Barstool’s canceled ESPN show with Katz and who previously declined to condemn his boss’s pattern of abusing women on the internet, but did say he has discouraged harassment on his podcast—what, if anything, he and Katz were doing to stop their boss’s harassment campaign against Ponder.
“Dan addressed the situation on his radio show and Twitter,” Sollenberger said. “Going to say my final piece about Ponder and Barstool Van Talk on Pardon My Take tomorrow. Sam’s IG story came out after we taped our show Tuesday.”
Shortly after I asked Sollenberger for comment, Katz sent the following tweet:
Perhaps it’s not surprising that Katz and Sollenberger don’t have anything more pointed to say about Portnoy’s campaign against Ponder, which follows the same playbook used by Gamergaters, alt-right trolls, and other groups whose specialty is bullying people off the internet. As Katz said on the radio yesterday, he just wants to “make people laugh,” and sometimes that requires not thinking too hard about the actual world around you. For example, the pair recently appeared on Sports Illustrated’s web show, The Wilder Project, to joke about their ESPN TV show getting canceled because their site has a history of attacking and bullying women.
Maybe one day they’ll be able to look back on Portnoy’s actions from this week and laugh about them, too.