February 8, 2023
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Barstool Ithaca raises questions about sports culture at IC

A newly created social media account is raising questions about sexism in sports culture at Ithaca College.

In a video posted to Barstool Ithaca on Instagram, junior TJ Horgan is sitting on a sofa he calls his “casting couch” to talk about who made the best plays in an Ithaca College football game. In the video, posted Oct. 5, he gives awards to players such as the following:

Horgan described how “the two in the pink, none in the stink award” went to a player “because he f—– some kid’s day up on the kickoff … but also structurally damaged his pinky in the process, so sorry ladies, no butt stuff for now.”

This is one example of the type of content used to reference athletes posted to Barstool Ithaca, social media accounts on Instagram and Twitter run by senior Riley Ludwig. She said the account is a college affiliate of Barstool Sports, a popular and controversial sports media blog that posts content about sports culture and pictures of attractive women dubbed “smokeshows.” Its social media accounts often post pictures and videos of party outtakes and other viral videos.  

Barstool Sports was founded by entrepreneur Dave Portnoy in Boston and began as a small print publication that featured gambling adverts and fantasy sports projections but began rising in popularity among sports fans, particularly those in the young male demographic. In 2016, the Chernin Group bought a majority stake of the company and it moved its headquarters to New York City. As of Oct. 25, Barstool Sports has three million followers on Instagram and 950,000 followers on Twitter.

Ludwig said the purpose of the accounts is for laughing at college student “shenanigans.” But many have criticized Barstool Sports for promoting content that they believe is derogatory toward women and perpetuates sexism in sports culture.

Ludwig said she does not think the content of Barstool Ithaca or Barstool Sports is sexist, and that while there are smokeshow picture submissions, that is not the main message Barstool Sports and Barstool Ithaca promote.

“I think you have to look at Barstool as a whole, and all the different types of content that it produces,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig said she likes their popular podcasts that discuss sports but also issues about life. For example, she said, Barstool’s Podfathers podcast tackles honest conversations about what it means to be a father.

On Oct. 3, the Barstool Ithaca Instagram account posted an image joking about rape which has since been deleted. It published a picture of a South Park character, called the PC Principal, holding up a piece of paper. The caption on the photo said, “Hey Hobart, Consent forms BRO?” The caption underneath the photo stated, “Keep an eye out for this beaut on South Aurora this weekend #RapeScandals #ConsentFormsBro.”

The Ithaca football team played the Hobart team a week earlier. The caption referred to a rape scandal at Hobart and Williams Smith colleges where a freshman student alleged that she was raped by Hobart Football players in 2013. The athletes were cleared of all charges by the college in a process that many criticized as deeply flawed.

Ludwig said the post joking about rape was not in alignment with Barstool Ithaca or Barstool Sports’ values. Ludwig said that while she is not the only studentmoderator on the social media accounts, she does review all the accounts’ content before it is published. When a student showed her the PC Principal image, she said she thought it was a joke referencing South Park and that she did not review the caption for the photo.

“It was uncalled for,” Ludwig said. “And frankly, that’s not the type of humor that I’m trying to distribute on the platform.”

According to the Barstool Sports website, when any video or picture is submitted to them, or posted with the hashtag #VivaLaStool or other Barstool brand hashtags, it has the rights to use the content on its social media accounts. Also, when content is submitted, Barstool has the rights to edit the content and also post the submitter’s username, real name and location with the video or image.

Rape jokes are nothing new to Barstool Sports’ president Portnoy. In a May 2010 post, which has since been deleted, Portnoy said, “[E]ven 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?” The Barstool Sports Instagram is also filled with posts mocking women who cannot shotgun beers correctly, but it is also filled with posts hailing women who can throw a football or pack tobacco — traditionally masculine activities.

Also in the video Horgan created and posted Oct. 5, he bestowed the “speak softly but carry a big dick” award to a player on the football team. In the video, he also refers to the sofa he is sitting on as his “casting couch,” an allusion to styles of pornography videos. He then refers to two football players as “Eskimo brothers,” a term for two men who have had sex with the same woman.

Horgan, who regularly creates content for the Barstool Ithaca social media accounts, said his commentary was only humorous.

“Humor unites and heals,” Horgan said in an email. “In my opinion, Barstool Ithaca is satirical in nature and exists to make you laugh.”

He said that he does not officially work for Barstool Ithaca.

Two players referenced in the video said it was a joke and that it was not intended to offend anybody.

In addition to the student-created content that is posted on the accounts, students are also able to submit content to be posted on the sites. On Oct. 17, a video was submitted and posted to Barstool Ithaca’s Instagram of a club soccer player running off of the field, taking a shot from a Fireball whiskey bottle and running back on to keep playing. On Oct. 18, a video was posted of a woman straddling a man’s face on a party bus. The video pans to another woman passed out on a bus seat. The caption said that those featured in the videos are alumni of the college. Ludwig said that if a video is submitted to Barstool Ithaca, she can post it without having to get consent from those featured in the video.

Junior Anna Gardner, president of Feminists United, is one student at the college who said she objects to Barstool Ithaca’s content. She said the messaging that Barstool Sports promotes, specifically through its well-known slogan, “Saturdays are for the boys,” is subliminally sexist.

“It reinstates a hierarchy in the patriarchy,” Gardner said. “Women prepare the home for the week … and then on the weekends, men get to celebrate and kick of their shoes.”

Ludwig said she disagrees. She said the slogan is a brand of Barstool Sports, and that it does not represent anything more than a phrase celebrating fun times.

“While ‘Saturday’s are for the boys’ is their primary [phrase], it’s not a misogynistic mantra,” Ludwig said. “If anything this phrase is about getting together with your friends.”

Gardner said she is not against college students partying and unwinding, but the effects of praising unruly behavior and speech that is derogatory toward women on social media can be harmful.

“For me, it’s hard to see how any of this is advancing the culture around how we treat each other, especially in regard to gender,” Gardner said. “I feel like it’s a step backward, totally.”

Junior Emily Chavez has submitted videos to Barstool Ithaca in the past. She said that she normally does not take issue with their content and that most of the content on Barstool Sports is funny and lighthearted. However, she said, she thinks the jokes targeting women on the Barstool Sports’ social media accounts, because of the frequency, are harmful.

“Women are starting now to break those stereotypes, break those stigmas, and the satire is bringing us back down,” Chavez said.

Portnoy previously defended his organization’s style of media in a Q&A with Forbes and said that Barstool Sports does not promote any sort of misogynistic message. However, this past week, female ESPN anchor Sam Ponder posted screenshots of a Barstool blog post on Twitter. The tweet by Ponder was intended to criticize ESPN’s move to host a Barstool show, Barstool Van Talk, on its network. The show was canceled Oct. 23 after its first episode.

The screenshots are about Ponder from a 2014 Barstool Sports blog post that states, “Seriously you sound like a KO Barstool freak, not a chick that has a job where the #1 requirement is you make men hard,” the article read. “So give it a rest with your righteous indignation. Your entire career and livelihood is based on appealing to guys like me and blogs like ours. Bottomline is guys thinking chicks are hot is natural. It’s Darwinism. It’s never gonna change. But that doesn’t mean we don’t respect women and think it’s okay to hit a woman. I have no idea what’s so confusing about that. Go f— yourself.”

Ellen Staurowsky, professor in the Department of Sport Management at Drexel University and former professor of sport management at Ithaca College, has studied gender equity issues in sports media. She said Barstool Ithaca is an extension of Barstool Sports, and represents the same male-dominated viewpoints and sexist habits. When viewing the Barstool Ithaca Instagram page, she said she was impressed by the production capabilities of the students, but was disappointed by how they used their talent to produce sports content that conforms to sexist references in sports media.

“How exciting would it be if they really experimented with new forms of sports media … and what it [means] to cover sports in a human way, that doesn’t rely on fractured lenses of gender … and other ways that we objectify people or put them down,” Staurowsky said.

Staurowsky said she thinks this type of content on both Barstool Ithaca and Barstool Sports incubates sexist ideology in sports culture. She said that a clear example of this is how female sports reporters, such as Ponder, are not only treated poorly by male sports fans in comment sections, but also how they are written about by sports commentators.

Staurowsky also questioned why the rape joke posted on Barstool Ithaca’s Instagram was too sexist whereas “less” sexist content is still allowed, like commentating on athlete performance in conjunction with sexual references about women.

Dan Swanstrom, head football coach, said he did not want to comment about his players being referenced on Barstool Ithaca. Swanstrom said that he had followed the Barstool Ithaca Twitter account, but unfollowed it due to the controversy surrounding it.

“If I’m against it, I’m against freedom of speech,” Swanstrom said. “If I’m for it, I’m for vulgarity and objectification of women.”

Susan Bassett, director of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreational Sports for the college, said she thinks some of the content being posted to Barstool Ithaca could damage athletes’ reputations at the college, but that because the college does not have any control over the account, there is not much it can do to limit the controversial content. She said that she would encourage athletes to ask that the content referencing or showing them be taken down.  

“We consider athletics a privileged opportunity,” Bassett said. “We have high standards and expectations of their behavior.”

She said that the athletic department is currently in the process of discussing the possible creation of a social media policy defining how studentathletes are expected to present themselves on social media. But for now, she said that she expects studentathletes at the college to uphold the athletestudent code of conduct when presenting themselves on social media. The code of conduct defines how studentathletes are expected to behave on and off the field. It emphasizes that studentathletes should uphold values of respect, integrity and excellence.

Dave Maley, senior associate director for media and community relations, said he thinks the type of content Barstool Ithaca is posting will not affect the reputation of the college.

“It is unfortunate but not unusual for a social media website to post that kind of material just to generate clicks, and I am sure that the good reputation of Ithaca College and its athletics department will survive intact,” Maley said.


CORECTION: A previous version of the article stated that the Athletics Department is planning to create a social media policy. It was revised to state that it is in the process of discussing whether it will create a social media policy. 

Grace Elletson can be reached at gelletson@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @graceelletson