The Man Behind the 'Bible of Bro Culture'

Not everyone finds Barstool Sports hilarious, however. Feminist groups have rallied against the site, which boasts daily features such as "Guess That Ass" and "Local Smokeshow of the Day," a spotlight of female college students from around the country. Portnoy has appeared on the TV newsmagazine Inside Edition to defend charges that the Blackout parties promote binge drinking and misogyny.

Portnoy's decision to post a nude photo of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's 20-month-old son also earned him a visit from Massachusetts state police, got him banned from Boston sports radio station WEEI and even led to an on-air scolding from Howard Stern.

Portnoy is unrepentant. "We don't back down from controversy--we fan the fires," he says. "People think we go out of our way to create it, but we don't. We're not trying to gain new readers by being crazy-outrageous. Our readers get what we do, and I don't think about what it's going to look like to the outside world. I don't really care."

What Portnoy does care about is building a website liberated from the seriousness and self-indulgence of the sports-media establishment, a site unwaveringly faithful to its credo, "For the common man, by the common man"--critics be damned.

"Dave is hellbent on proving everything in the mainstream wrong," Clancy says. "He wants to prove all the advertising agencies are wrong, all the media agencies are wrong and all the PR agencies are wrong. He is fighting against everyone who says you have to play by the same cookie-cutter rules, and he won't stop until he proves he's right. It's his crusade."

Portnoy's ardent fans, the Stoolies, are right there with him. When students at Boston's Northeastern University launched the grassroots organization Knockout Barstool to protest what they call the site's "cycle of misogyny and rape culture," the Stoolies rushed to Portnoy's defense across all corners of the social media landscape. (Knockout Barstool representatives did not respond to requests for comment; as of this writing, the group's Facebook page and Tumblr site had not been updated since February 2012.)

The Stoolies are a complex and often contradictory bunch. Barstool Sports' comment sections are unconscionably mean-spirited, embodying the worst excesses of internet anonymity. Portnoy, himself, is the target of many insults, which run the gamut from blog syntax issues to his physique--and those are some of the milder remarks. The most extreme comments cross the line into outright hate speech.

"I wish they didn't do it. It reflects poorly on readers and poorly on us," Portnoy admits. "We've gone through periods of banning people. We don't have the manpower or the technology to accurately do it, so we do it the best we can. It's the nature of the internet, and it's something we have to live with, but it sucks."

Yet Stoolies are capable of genuine acts of kindness as well. On Veterans Day 2012, they donated $15,000 in less than 24 hours to purchase a new wheelchair for Zachary Parker, a U.S. Army medic who lost both legs and an arm while on patrol in Afghanistan. And in the wake of April's Boston Marathon bombing, Barstool produced and sold three Boston Strong charity T-shirts, donating proceeds of close to $250,000 to victims of the attack.

And for all those women who oppose Barstool Sports, there appear to be as many supporters. "I know there are people who don't want to go on the site because there are girls in thongs and their asses are everywhere, but who cares? Get over it. There's a lot more content there," says Jaimie, a 28-year-old digital project manager based in Boston and an avowed Stoolie.

Barstool Sports even has champions in the same sports-media establishment the site rails against. "Barstool makes me laugh on a daily basis," says Scott Van Pelt, an Emmy Award-nominated anchor on ESPN's flagship news program SportsCenter and the co-host of ESPN Radio's afternoon talk show SVP & Russillo. "It's not a bastion of great taste. But I'm an adult, and if I want to laugh at things I think are politically incorrect, I'm allowed to. You don't have to like it."

Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the November 2013 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Agent Provocateur.

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