- After Barstool CEO Erika Nardini hosted two NWHL players on her podcast, league fans and journalists rebuked the brand for its history of misogyny and racism, and Nardini replied with a controversial video.
- Riveters rookie Saroya Tinker — one of the lone Black players in the NWHL — tweeted Monday that the league should not accept support from a platform that “promotes white supremacy.”
- Barstool’s Dave Portnoy then said Tinker “should be in jail for that” — prompting his fans to harass the 22-year-old — before he and Nardini lamented the “pressure for conformity” on “The Megyn Kelly Show.”
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The National Women’s Hockey League and Barstool are fighting.
The sports media company’s CEO — Erika Nardini — is an avid hockey fan. But when she used Barstool’s massive platform to help bring new eyes to the league — which is just days into its 2021 season — some fans and journalists pushed back on the controversial brand’s involvement with the league.
An NWHL game between the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts.
Andy Marlin/Getty Images for NWHL
The conflict devolved from there, complete with journalistic call-outs, inter-team feuds, and infamous Barstool co-founder Dave Portnoy inciting online harassment of a 22-year-old Black rookie.
Here’s how it all went down
In the lead-up to NWHL teams reporting to a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, to compete for the 2021 Isobel Cup, Nardini hosted two players — Kelly Babstock and Rebecca Russo of the Metropolitan Riveters — on her “Token CEO” podcast. Fans and reporters covering the league were quick to voice their concerns about Barstool — which has a well-documented history of misogynistic, racist, and antagonistic conduct. Open those links at your own discretion.
Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini.
Kevin Hagen/Hashtag Sports via AP Images
Nardini felt compelled to defend herself and did so through a video released Monday. While the tweets of critics flashed across the screen, the 45-year-old questioned: “why my effort [to promote the NWHL] is a bad thing.”
“I also think it’s interesting to see some of the people in women’s hockey who I’ve had great conversations with turn on Twitter and just pretend none of that occurred,” she added.
But instead of clearing the air, the clip incited even more controversy, especially considering the Barstool community’s propensity for harassing naysayers. That’s when Saroya Tinker — a rookie for the Riveters and one of the lone Black players in the NWHL — broke her silence.
Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
The four-year letter winner with the Yale Bulldogs issued a stunning rebuke of Barstool on Twitter, writing that “WE, as a league do not want support from ANY openly racist platform.” She went on to state that the platform “promotes… white supremacy” and “only further divides the athletic community.”
“Pls keep your money,” Tinker added.
—Saroya Tinker (@saroyatinker71) January 26, 2021
And the next day, NWHL Commissioner Tyler Tumminia weighed in, stressing that her top priority is to “reinforce the values of the NWHL and its players” and enable the league to “remain inclusive and empowering for women.” Then, without naming Nardini or Barstool directly, Tumminia condemned the act of calling out “many of the reporters, staff members, and fans who have given so much to women’s hockey.”
“Especially knowing that these people could be targeted or harassed on social media,” she added.
—Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) January 26, 2021
That’s precisely what happened.
Portnoy intervened following the NWHL’s statement
Barstool’s frontman released his own video to his nearly two million Twitter followers late Tuesday night titled “Emergency Press Conference – The NWHL Owes Erika Nardini An Apology.”
While looking directly into the camera, Portnoy — known as “El Presidente” to his loyal fanbase — rattled off reasons why he believes his company is not sexist. Then, the 44-year-old face of Barstool railed against “the political climate” and Tinker for suggesting the brand is aligned with white supremacy.
“You should be in jail for that,” Portnoy said. “To call a company a white supremacist without a shred of proof…”
“F— you people,” he added about Nardini’s critics.
Getty Images / Cliff Hawkins
Unsurprisingly, “Stoolies” came out in droves to harass Tinker as well as the journalists and fans who critiqued Nardini. One such fan replied to Nardini’s video on Twitter and shared that she’s experienced “more vitriol, hate, misogyny, and transphobia in my [direct messages] and replies in the past few days due to Barstool ppl than I ever have before on this app.”
“If you care about women, you need to take a long, hard look at the culture you’ve helped to create,” she added.
The culture she’s helped create
In the 18 years since its founding, Barstool has not developed a reputation as an ally to women’s sports leagues and the athletes who comprise them. The brand has ostensibly done the opposite, billing itself as a site “By the Common Man, For The Common Man” from the very beginning. Its “Saturdays are for the boys” signature slogan is, according to the New York Post, a “movement that is… staunch in its support of males being unabashed males” — presumably at the exclusion of their female counterparts.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Both Portnoy as an individual and Barstool as a collective have used the objectification of women as a means to make a name for themselves. “Sluts” and “chicks” were long part of the Barstool vernacular, with photos of nearly-nude women — or “smokeshows” — littering the company’s website and social media accounts.
According to The Daily Beast, one of Barstool’s blogs “rates the sexual appeal of female teachers alleged to have molested underage male students.” Another has readers attempt to “Guess that Ass” and “Guess that Rack.” And the company has extended contracts to job candidates that forbade them from objecting or taking offense to “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity, and references to stereotypes” at Barstool, per The Boston Globe.
Portnoy himself has made light of sexual harassment within his workplace, joked about rape, and stood idly by as colleagues objectified teenage girls. And he’s mocked the appearances of countless women in media, including women within his organization.
Tom Briglia/ Getty Images
He has a similar track record with racist, antisemitic, islamophobic, homophobic, and transphobic transgressions. He’s mocked Jews, likened Colin Kaepernick to a terrorist because “I thought maybe he had some terrorist, Arab, Arabic theology. Maybe he was on Palestine’s side or something.” He’s been captured on camera using the N-word and has since overseen Barstool’s launch of a podcast with the slur in its title — hard “R” and all — prompting some of the company’s Black employees to quit on the spot.
But rather than apologizing, Portnoy, Nardini, and the Barstool machine have railed against cancel culture and public “pressure for conformity.”
“It’s courageous right now to be authentic,” Nardini said on “The Megyn Kelly Show” Wednesday morning. “It’s courageous to have a history. It’s courageous to actually say what you mean publicly. Making jokes now is courageous. You talk to any entertainer, you talk to any comedian, you talk to any public persona … there is such pressure for conformity and such pressure for a unanimous opinion.”
Fighting for inclusivity is not ‘pressure for conformity’ — it’s a call for basic decency
Because inclusivity is not now and has never been part of Barstool’s philosophy, Nardini’s attempt to equate respect for all people — regardless of race, gender, and creed — to “pressure for conformity” has sinister implications. Under the guise of “authenticity,” Portnoy and many of his colleagues perpetuate disparities within every sociological category, one “joke” at a time.
Blake Bolden, the first black NWHL player, visits the Black Hockey History Museum.
Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images
So while Nardini’s support for the NWHL may very well have been genuine, it’s impossible to separate her intentions from her means of execution; the company she helms has a very long, very troubling track record of using its platform to shun and belittle the very same people she now seeks to support.
Given that Nardini is on the outs with some of the league’s core supporters — and, seemingly, its leadership — she and Portnoy have teased the creation of their own women’s hockey league. And, sure, there may be some pro hockey players intrigued by that prospect. But a league of women that does not actively welcome and support all women — Black women, women of color, queer women, Muslim women, and Jewish women inclusive — is not much of a women’s league at all.
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