- Barstool Sports is a thorn in the NFL's side that the league can't remove. And while the league has revoked credentials for the Pardon My Take guys, Dan Katz and PFT Commenter stay at the top of their game.
INDIANAPOLIS — The warehouse owner didn’t think he needed to ask for a cash deposit from the NFL when the league asked to rent his venue during the annual NFL Scouting Combine. However he received a rude awakening in January when the NFL notified him that his event space, located in downtown Indianapolis across the street from the convention center and down the block from Lucas Oil Stadium, was no longer needed by the league and wouldn’t be paid for. (An NFL spokesman said the league merely looked into using the venue, and no contract was involved.)
The owner, who asked for anonymity to discuss private discussions with the NFL and Visit Indy—Indianapolis’s travel bureau—called up a friend who just happened to work for a website that has been a thorn in the side of the league of late. Would former Colts punter Pat McAfee and his Barstool Sports crew like to use the monstrous floor space for the week? Of course they would.
McAfee set up shop in the warehouse with Dan Katz (Big Cat), PFT Commenter and other Barstool cohorts and hosted the Barstool Sports Journalism Combine, in which reporters from traditional media outlets like NBC Sports, NFL Network and Sports Illustrated (yes, I participated, and won) sat through an interrogation by Katz and PFT Commenter and competed in a timed course with obstacles. The course tasks included pulling a single diet coke can out of a large cooler full of sodas, drinking cold coffee from a Styrofoam cup and asking a mock interview question to McAfee, who was standing atop a podium. The catch? The question had to start with two words that have become a crutch for pro football journos in press conference scenarios: “Talk about…”
The gag at work here—one of many that drives the Pardon My Take (PMT) podcast hosted by Katz and PFT Commenter—pokes fun at how seriously us ‘Big J Journalists’ take our jobs covering a game, and ultimately how trite and formulaic some of the collective practices have become. It’s a message that resonates with people like Mike Florio, whose site Pro Football Talk (and specifically its occasionally dunderheaded comment section) inspired PFT Commenter to start the Twitter account @PFTCommenter six years ago.
“They use satire and hyperbole to make smart and funny points about the sports we cover,” says Florio via email, “and they do it in a way that rarely, if ever, comes off as malicious or cruel. Their platform gives media people a chance to loosen up and not take everything so seriously.”
Florio first met up with PFT Commenter (his identity is known to the league and certain corners of the internet, but he maintains relative anonymity for the laughs) in 2015 when PFT Commenter wrote a story for SB Nation about his “Internet Dad.” PFT Commenter and Katz became guests on the PFT show when PFT Commenter moved to Barstool two years ago (Katz has been there since 2012), but there would be limits to their relationship. At last year’s Super Bowl in Houston, the NFL denied credentials to PMT for Media Day and Radio Row, not allowing Katz and PFT Commenter to appear on PFT Live.
It’s no secret that Barstool Sports and the NFL aren’t friendly. Barstool boss and Patriots fan Dave Portnoy was relentlessly critical of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell when the league suspended Tom Brady in the wake of the Deflategate controversy, and Barstool Sports hasn’t been credentialed to cover an NFL event since a handful of Barstool employees were arrested in May 2015 for protesting Brady’s suspension outside of the NFL offices in New York City. At the first game of the 2017 season, Goodell’s first return to Gillette Stadium since Brady’s suspension, Barstool distributed tens of thousands of rally towels emblazoned with Goodell’s face wearing a red clown nose.
“Ultimately we’re somewhat harmless to the NFL,” says PFT Commenter. “I don’t think we've done anything—wait, I was going to say we haven’t done anything malicious, but the Roger Goodell clown towel thing was pretty malicious.”
It’s just as well the pair can’t get a credential. Katz believes their disdain for traditional media spaces like locker rooms and press conferences, and the norms therein, puts players at ease. “I think these guys don’t trust a lot of reporters,” Katz says, “because they’re looking for scoops, whereas we’re just coming at it from more of a comedy angle, like, let’s just talk like human beings here.”
It’s a content-driving mentality for Barstool as a whole, but one that comes with limits. The irreverent nature of the commentary paired with a variety of offensive posts from other Barstool contributors in years past, led ESPN to reverse course on the PMT-fueled variety show Barstool Van Talk in October, canceling it after just one episode.
It was a blow to the PMT duo, whose brand of satire has avoided major controversy in their two years together. A number of media members who petitioned ESPN to dump Barstool saw the decision as a repudiation of the company’s larger reputation. In the eyes of many, Katz and PFT Commenter were merely collateral damage.
So PMT kept trucking, and the podcast has remained at the top of the sports genre rankings for more than two years. The hosts credit a younger generation of fans who don’t care for the politics of everyday sportswriting.
“I think journalism’s changed in the last 20 years and we do have the younger audience that might not understand why the Capital J’s take themselves very, very seriously,” PFT Commenter says. “But I also think a lot of the journalists who do follow us can laugh at themselves in a way that I hadn’t seen until recently.”
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Even without credentials, the pair remains relevant, and that includes breaking some news. In a podcast appearance after the Super Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson delivered a quote that lit up the NFL media landscape. “I just think that the Patriot Way is a fear-based organization,” Johnson told the hosts. “They’ve won for a long time. Do I think people enjoy [it] and can say, ‘I had a lot of fun playing there’? No, I don’t… Not to be reckless, but I’d much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls.”
There’s the occasional quote that goes viral. But PMT’s bread and butter is a casual, sarcasm-fueled interview style that makes for great conversation. And the absence of a rubber stamp from the league doesn't seem to limit their appeal to guests—this week they booked Von Miller.
So where do they go from here? They’ll keep applying for NFL credentials, looking for opportunities to hold a mirror up to NFL media on its biggest stages, but their refusal to pull punches won’t inspire a capitulation on the part of the league. Would PMT credential themselves if the roles were flipped? How would they treat the media at large if they were running the show?
Says PFT Commenter: “If I were running the NFL that probably means I would’ve been in the NFL for the last 35 years, so I would probably just think I was a marketing genius and everything I do is great, so I probably wouldn’t credential us either”
Says Katz: “I would run it very differently, and focus on the fact that it is fun. You look at how football restricts everyone from sharing their video, vs. a league like the NBA. Why wouldn’t you want the fans, the most passionate people about your sport, to advertise your sport for you? It’s counterintuitive. If I’m more inclined to go watch a game because I saw an awesome highlight come across my Twitter feed, no matter who put it up, why wouldn’t you want that?”
“The NFL’s policy towards fans a lot of times, is f*** you, you’re gonna enjoy the product we give you. F*** you, here's a game and you’re gonna shut up and watch it. I know it's Thursday night but the uniforms are different so tune in, a**hole,” PFT Commenter adds.
Regardless of their opinion on league leadership, they’ll keep tuning in to the NFL and showing up to the NFL’s biggest events, and the NFL will likely keep turning them away. It’s all fodder for the hosts, who were tipped off with a photo showing an alert to NFL media minders not to admit the pair to Radio Row in Minneapolis last month. The subsequent tweet of the photo earned 2,300+ likes.
“We’re good with being the villains,” Katz says. “We probably would have pissed people off if we got into the combine, because we’re not going to promise to follow any rules… We’d still ask Andy Reid when’s the last time he had three steaks in one sitting.”
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