In a podcast episode published Wednesday, seven Barstool Sports employees of color spent 80 minutes talking around the fact that their boss Dave Portnoy, whose racist videos had gained attention this past weekend, had not apologized publicly or in private to them.
Objectively, the discussion was pathetic.
Former NFL player Willie Colon and Brandon Newman had five of their co-workers on The 2Biggs Podcast for a discussion about Portnoy’s comments; the episode was titled with the acronym for “Now It’s Gonna Get Extremely Real.” (Not every participant signed off on that title.) Most of the conversation featured the group trying their hardest to not call their boss racist, but there were two damning details revealed. Colon said this week he talked one-on-one with Portnoy about a now-viral 2016 clip in which the Barstool boss compared NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a terrorist because of his skin color and appearance.
According to Colon, Portnoy defended the Arab and Muslim jokes by saying, “After 9/11, did you not think when you saw somebody with a turban on, you didn’t think of a terrorist?”
Later in the episode, an employee known as Ebony the Security Guard provided context to a 2017 video in which Portnoy rapped along to Ja Rule’s “Livin’ It Up” a little too accurately. According to Ebony, Portnoy asked her and other employees whether he should say the word “n—a.” They all advised against it; he chose to anyway. Ebony said the office was “dead silent” and “awkward” afterward. Both Colon and Ebony sounded resigned and frustrated as they shared these stories.
The racial reckoning across media has reached Barstool Sports, a company built on bigotry and countless stolen jokes. But unlike other companies that have been held accountable by their employees of color, this group of Barstool staffers chose to reckon with the racism themselves and take the burden off Portnoy and CEO Erika Nardini.
The August 2016 clip of Portnoy, along with staffers Kevin Clancy and Dan Katz, showed the trio talking about Kaepernick’s kneeling demonstration during the national anthem. To give a sense of what was to come, Portnoy started the segment with: “So I’m going to say something that’s racist.”
Portnoy then dove right into declaring that Kaepernick’s complexion and hair made him look evil. “Throw a head wrap on this guy, and he’s a terrorist,” he said.
“He is very confusing,” said Clancy, who once insisted that the Qatari-owned news network Al Jazeera was the same as militant organization Al Qaeda. “I will give you that.”
“Wait, you thought he was not standing for the national anthem because he wanted to kill all Americans?” Katz asked.
“No, I thought he maybe had some terrorist, Arab, Arabic ideology,” Portnoy said. “Maybe he was like on Palestine’s side or something.”
The conversation then turned to the three laughing as they openly questioned Kaepernick’s Blackness:
KATZ: He’s got a Jew fro. He’s got a Jew fro.
PORTNOY: He has the beard. He looks like he could be in a terrorist video.
CLANCY: Jew fro, terrorist beard, terrorist skin—it’s confusing.
PORTNOY: Yeah. So I didn’t give much thought to it. I was like, “Why wouldn’t he stand?” I didn’t … he thinks Black people—which I guess, he’s Black?
KATZ: Yeah, I think so.
PORTNOY: Okay. So I didn’t know that. I thought he was Arabic. So when I’m thinking Arabic, an Arab person is not standing for the national anthem, I go terrorist right away. This can’t be held against me. It’s just how my brain works.
This was not a one-time thing. In another video, Portnoy said terrorists are “obviously always going to be Muslim,” as the same two sycophants nodded along.
After receiving criticism for these comments, the three Barstool fellas each issued their own responses, all of them entirely absent of any actual apologies or remorse.
“I’m sorry to people in my personal life that I’ve hurt or fucked up with, but I have never been sorry to one motherfucker reading or listening to any of my content,” Clancy wrote. “I’m not going to apologize just to apologize,” Katz wrote.
Of the three, Portnoy was the most defensive. “I’m not going to apologize,” he said in a video posted Monday. “I’m not going to bend the knee.”
Each had their own variations of how Kaepernick’s protest affected them in the past four years, but in all their empty words, they never approached an explanation for what “terrorist skin” meant. They never acknowledged any of the other racist remarks about Arabs, or how they automatically lumped in all Palestinians as terrorists. It might have been because they knew the remarks were indefensible.
After The Daily Beast reached out to Portnoy and Nardini for comment Thursday afternoon, the Barstool founder posted an “emergency press conference” on Twitter. (Nardini has yet to comment.) In the nearly five-minute clip, he ranted about “haters” sharing the racist clips to take him down, repeatedly emphasized that his comments were merely attempts at comedy during a “different time,” and kinda-sorta apologized for offending some of his employees.
The half-assed apology—which came only after he dismissed concerns about the racist videos and his staffers made the podcast episode complaining about it—relied heavily on the general theme of Clancy, Katz, and Portnoy all trying to pretend that 2016 was eons ago, a time when no one would have raised their eyebrows at associating Arabs with terrorism, or cracking jokes about the skin color of a quarterback who was protesting racial injustice.
Portnoy’s apology video acted as though Barstool hasn’t been called out many times before, like when they laughed at a joke about a Puerto Rican pitcher being in debt to the Mexican cartel, or when a staffer got super racist while playing a video game, or when Portnoy said the Notre Dame leprechaun mascot shouldn’t be Black, or when Portnoy appeared (and continues to appear) on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News, or when the staff’s recurring beat was Black Lives Matter protestors who deserved to be run over, or when the site sold MAGA hats and supported Donald Trump’s candidacy.
None of this is ancient history, as much as Barstool wants to pretend it is. Everyone at the time knew it was wrong. Barstool knew it was wrong. But whenever they were confronted with it, they responded by sneering and sending their readers to harass the people who pointed it out.
In his Thursday video, Portnoy suggested he wants to “learn” from his non-white colleagues. It felt like a reference to Nardini’s effort last month to rewrite the site’s well-documented past. On June 4, she made it official: Barstool would be “doing a ton of growing up.”
That statement was empty, obvious damage control, as evidenced Monday when Nardini backed Portnoy in his refusal to apologize. She openly admitted that Barstool’s history was so disgusting, it would be her only job if she had to address it all—including anything that happened under her tenure. “I would be forced to literally do nothing else and it would appease exactly no one,” she wrote, waving away criticism, so why bother?
Nardini’s comments were dishonest pablum that conspicuously avoided discussing the site’s behavior in any form. Everything was churned into CEO speak: “opportunities,” “risks,” and “trying to mix things up.”
Nardini’s tactic was bold: If we apologize for this blatant racism, that would open the floodgates for apologies for the rest of the site’s disgusting comments. It’s also unintentionally honest. There’s no way Barstool can truthfully say it will evolve, because racism and sexism are foundational to the company.
As a true “evolution,” Barstool could jettison Portnoy, who’s the center of the operation and has no desire to change. But the employees are cowards who would never stand for something in their life, and the management is obsequious. Barstool markets itself as giving freedom to unfiltered honesty, yet no one there seems to have the spine to directly hold him accountable.
And Barstool is primarily beholden to its sponsors, who try their best to avoid justifying their business relationships.
In June, NASCAR made a big show of banning the Confederate flag from events, in order to provide “a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans.” Association president Steve Phelps called on his sport to “stand against racism and racial injustice.” How does that sentiment square with partnering with a company that has repeatedly shown its contempt for the Black Lives Matter movement as well as people of color? When asked by the Associated Press’s Jenna Fryer for comment on the racist Barstool clips, NASCAR declined. A NASCAR spokesperson did not respond to The Daily Beast on Thursday afternoon when asked for comment.
NASCAR’s preference to ignore its hypocritical relationship with the company is unsurprising. Earlier this year, the racing brand stayed mum as Portnoy sicced his 1.2 million Twitter followers on a veteran NASCAR reporter who had the audacity to post a single critical tweet about Barstool.
There are many in the sports world who give Barstool a pass. Pro athletes post black squares on Instagram and confidently declare “Black Lives Matter,” but they’ll also happily pal around with Portnoy. When ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt and Rachel Nichols associate with the less unsavory parts of Barstool, they launder the rest of the brand. It doesn’t matter if you hate Portnoy but consume one or two small parts of the company; the money all goes to the same place. Certain people have no problem standing up to the concept of obvious racism, except when a haven for obvious racism owns the podcasts they like.
In the last month, countless industries and brands have claimed they will speak up. Watching the police kill unarmed Black people has spurred them to march, call their local government demanding change, or educate themselves through books and other media. Barstool initially pretended to be on board with this movement, because it was the marketable thing to do, but as many of its employees proved this week, they seem to prefer retaining the segment of bigots and goons who follow them. The staffers of color had to make a podcast episode titled with the ugliest word you can call a Black person for Portnoy to take them seriously. Is the paycheck truly worth that?