Star Tribune sports columnist Michael Rand found himself in the middle of a debate with the leader of Barstool Sports after he tweeted his opinion that the company was built on a premise of misogyny.
Rand, known for his Randball columns for the Strib, posted his tweet – and a column regarding Barstool Sports – after it emerged that Major League Baseball is in talks to broadcast games via Barstool, in an apparent attempt to attract younger viewers.
Rand's column, "If MLB partners with Barstool, it should be ready for well-deserved backlash," says that misogyny is "sort of central to the Barstool premise."
Rand's comments caught the attention of Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy, who highlighted Barstool Sports' now multiple female-focused sites, in addition to having a woman CEO – Erika Nardini – and a majority female executive team.
Rand responded by saying he's "having a hard time getting past the rape 'jokes' among other things."
The rape "joke" Rand reference was made by Portnoy in 2004, when he said, "If you’re a size 6 and you’re wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserved to be raped.”
Portnoy, who pointed out that Rand participated in Barstool's 2018 documentary about the 2005 Minnesota Vikings "Love Boat" scandal – which Rand said in his column he now regrets – admitted in a tweet that it was a "failed attempt at humor," a joke he "wouldn't make now."
He said it's the "1" failed attempt at humor he's had in his career, though he has been criticized for other comments he's made in the past, including in 2016 when he likened former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a terrorist.
On Wednesday. Rand joined Portnoy on his podcast – titled "Special Interview With A Hater", where he explained that his critical tweets about Barstool had more to do with their reported agreement to broadcast Major League Baseball games than anything else.
You can watch the 25-minute exchange here:
"This proposed partnership could have some problematic threads to it from a brand standpoint both for you and MLB," Rand said Wednesday. "The deliverables you give them are off the charts. What I'm wondering about is ... how does that play with a brand of MLB that skews very much mainstream?"
Rand then questioned Barstool's culture, which Portnoy defended.
"There is no one who's ever complained about our culture who's been in the culture," he said, later adding: "I just feel like people who will actually look, we're not who everybody says we are."
In 2017 Barstool saw its partnership with ESPN end after 10 days when ESPN President John Skipper felt he "erred in assuming we could distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.”
Among those critical of the partnership at the time was ESPN host Sam Ponder – the wife of former Vikings QB Christian Ponder – who in an editor's note on the Barstool site, allegedly written by Portnoy, was referred to as a "Bible thumping freak" whose job was to "make men hard." In a 2014 recording, he referred to her as a "f----- slut."
Speaking to Rand, Portnoy said: "My issue is, I think we're good. I certainly think we've made some jokes that haven't hit and have been off-color. Nothing we've said has been out of hate to make people feel bad, but when you've been on the internet for 20 years trying to be funny there are some areas, especially as the culture and times change, where you wish maybe you didn't say it, but you said it and you gotta stand by it."
Portnoy closed the conversation with Rand, which was respectful the entire 25 minutes, by defending the years of work it took to build Barstool into what it is today.
"To say that we were built by misogyny when we had a female site is just wildly untrue. It was built by me handing newspapers outside subway stations, waking up at four in the morning, coming back writing it, doing 48-hour paper routes, being funny talking about everyday life," he said. "I's ultra-simplistic to just say 'oh they made a rape joke and all of a sudden became this media empire.' It was a 20-year story."
Rand left the conversation saying he would "see if my opinion" changes after he looks at things "more closely."
Those following their exchange online have also pointed out that there are plenty of examples of misogynistic and racist incidents in the past at some of MLB's other broadcasting partners, such as FOX Corp. and ESPN.