American University's most notable meme page is tied to a notorious company. This seemingly innocuous social media account sponsors an organization full of bigotry and harassment, and that connection makes Barstool American's existence problematic.
Barstool American (@stoolamerican on Instagram) is American University’s largest meme page. With over 11,000 followers, you would have a difficult time finding an AU student who is not at least aware of its existence. American is just one of the hundreds of colleges whose students have created Barstool and Chicks Instagram accounts, which are affiliates of the sports and pop culture blog Barstool Sports. Barstool has grown into a multi-million dollar company by consistently inviting controversy, particularly from its founder, Dave Portnoy. While AU students have started countless meme accounts over the years, only one advertises its connections to an infamous company. In 2022, at a university considered one of the most liberal in the country, why should the AU community support a Barstool account?
Beyond the memes, #TinderTuesdays, and videos documenting memorable moments at AU, Barstool American exists solely to promote the Barstool brand. It is, as its profile proclaims, a “Direct Affiliate of @barstoolsports.” The Barstool Sports store is also linked, where you can buy such novelties as anti-cancel culture hoodies and Christmas ornaments showing Dave Portnoy eating pizza. Some of its content also directly benefits the Barstool Sports company, including posts that promote Barstool-sponsored club events. Barstool American is inseparable from the Barstool company.
2021 only added to Barstool’s long list of problematic actions. An August report by Media Matters for America listed virtually every problematic action associated with the company. Researcher Alicia Sadowski proclaimed that “Barstool Sports is a cesspool of misogyny and bigotry,” and organized the offenses into categories. Among the sections were: “sexualizing minors and whitewashing nonconsensual explicit content,” “perpetuating and encouraging racism,” “spreading coronavirus misinformation,” and “encouraging violence and harassment.” Each offense has multiple examples, and the list was updated in late October to include even more. Included in the report are statements from not only Portnoy himself but also from a myriad of Barstool commentators and employees.
The instances covered range from Barstool radio hosts sexualizing teenaged Olympian Chloe Kim to Portnoy’s frequent use of racial slurs. One incident that was not covered by the Media Matters report was a 2018 blog post on the Barstool website that mocked American University’s mandatory alcohol use and sexual assault training course. The post described the trainings as “very dumb” before further mocking the modules for saying students should refrain from sex until after learning about consent. Barstool’s problems are not localized to Portnoy. Its personalities and staff frequently engage in the same disgusting behavior as its controversial founder.
Beyond its public image, Barstool privately follows the same attitudes its hosts spew on their platforms. One sports journalist rejected a job offer from Barstool after she was asked to sign an agreement acknowledging that she would encounter “nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity and references to stereotypes.” While it is unknown if this agreement is widely used, it definitely indicates that Barstool behind the scenes cultivates a similar culture as it does with its fans. Further details of Barstool life remain largely unknown. However, some of Portnoy’s public meltdowns may hint at disarray behind the cameras. In one memorable 2019 episode, he tweeted that any employees attempting to unionize would be fired immediately. The outburst led to the National Labor Relations Board charging Barstool Sports with unfair labor practices, and an eventual settlement forced Portnoy to delete the tweets. The resulting investigation revealed that Portnoy was behind a fake Barstool Sports Union Twitter page designed to lure unsuspecting Barstool employees. Public criticism of Barstool is unlikely to happen soon. Current and former employees are reportedly scared to speak out against the company. Many signed nondisclosure agreements, and others simply did not want to risk the wrath of Barstool’s rabid fanbase.
Barstool’s fans, “Stoolies,” have proven themselves to be just as destructive as Barstool’s hosts. In 2018, the Daily Beast reported the anonymous accounts of a number of female journalists who detailed harassment, not just from Barstool personalities, but Stoolies who emerged to attack anyone reporting on Barstool’s transgressions. In addition to the anonymous accounts, Jemele Hill, formerly of ESPN, and Lindsay Gibbs of ThinkProgress publicly shared their own experiences. Gibbs said that “Portnoy and his Stoolies treat sexual harassment and cyberbullying as a game.” Hill described Barstool as “a space where they are allowed to be insulting to women, to people of color, to all the ‘others.’” The journalists all detailed the extent to which Stoolies went, including hundreds of spam calls, messages, and emails. Many had their home addresses leaked and received death threats. Laura Wagner, formerly of Deadspin, published the online abuse she had been receiving after writing an article discussing one of Barstool’s podcast hosts.
Many trolls acknowledged themselves as Stoolies while hurling crude insults, including one who signed his email off with “Viva La Stool.” Stoolies serve as Barstool’s personal troll army, and their wrath can be deployed at a moment’s notice. In one of their darkest episodes, Portnoy sent them after SoulCycle after he alleged that his now ex-girlfriend cheated on him with a SoulCycle instructor. The man who was supposedly the instructor had his personal information leaked.
Dave Portnoy has only continued to add to his infamy. In November, he was temporarily banned from Twitter after posting an email exchange with a Business Insider editor that revealed the journalist’s email address. The emails were in regard to a report published by Insider that documented multiple women’s allegations against Portnoy. These allegations included nonconsensual choking during sex and that Portnoy attempted to film his encounters without consent. The accusations were anonymous, as the accusers feared retaliation from both Portnoy and his Stoolies. Dave Portnoy responded to the allegations by appearing on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News program and floating a conspiracy theory that Insider published the accusations as part of a plot to lower Barstool’s parent company’s stock price.
The recent allegations against Portnoy threaten to complicate his company’s college outreach efforts. Barstool Sports has been constantly trying to make inroads with college students, with mixed success. In its early years, Barstool infamously hosted “blackout parties” near college campuses, with one event in Boston attracting organized resistance from Northeastern University students.
Recently, Barstool has been expanding its reach with college athletes. Over 4,000 collegiate athletes have signed up to be “Barstool Athletes,” a sponsorship deal with sparse details. Aside from free merchandise, it is unclear what relationship will exist between Barstool and its athletes. Almost a dozen students at American University are registered Barstool Athletes. Barstool also made a major leap into college football, sponsoring the now-canceled Barstool Sports Arizona Bowl between Boise State and Central Michigan. At the same time, anti-Barstool sentiment is growing on college campuses. Boston University’s It’s On Us chapter published a viral petition over the summer calling on BU’s Barstool page to shut down. In their petition, they specifically cited the rise of “Barstool Athletes” as influencing their efforts. While the BarstoolBU account is still active, It’s On Us Boston University has continued to spread awareness about Barstool and Dave Portnoy. In addition to students raising concerns about Barstool’s problematic history, administrators have begun waying in on Barstool’s improper handling of their athlete deals.
Barstool Sports is toxic. Its history of bigotry and targeted harassment began when it was founded, and it has been documented extensively for years. While founder Dave Portnoy is Barstool’s worst offender, he is far from the only source of the company’s vitriol. Everyone at Barstool, from the bloggers to the fans, actively contributes to a disgusting culture. Barstool American is no different. StoolAmerican and every other college Barstool page support the wider company. If the owner(s) of the Barstool American account wants to run a meme page, they can at least do so without the Barstool branding. Instead, they continue to support a company that has proven again and again that it is nothing more than a “cultural preservation project for bros.” American University students have the opportunity to make history by standing up to Barstool Sports on our campus.
Barstool American did not respond to a request for comment.
Alex Moskovitz is a freshman C.L.E.G. major in the School of Public Affairs. He is a staff writer and deputy editor at American Agora.
Image taken via screenshot by the American Agora.