While Roger Goodell Stumbled Onto The Right Answer, Some Browns Must Clarify Troubling Relationship With Barstool

Pete Smith

While the Cleveland Browns and their players are saying so many of the right things and engaging in important actions for the sake of racial equality and social justice, it's hypocritical to simultaneously have a relationship with a company like Barstool Sports, which has an awful history with racism.

Settling a personal score with an irritant, Roger Goodell refused to allow Barstool founder Dave Portnoy to sit with him at an NFL game, despite winning an auction to support COVID-19 relief. The NFL cited a failed background check as the reason. Perhaps by complete accident, Goodell got this one right, refusing to legitimize a person and company that so often traffics in racism and sexism.

In response to seeing Colin Kaepernick kneel to protest police brutality, Portnoy suggested that he was an Arab and a terrorist because of his beard, despite the fact that Kaepernick is the progeny of a black man and white woman. Kevin Clancy chimes in, saying Kaepernick had "terrorist skin". Portnoy rationalized his racism by saying, "This can't be held against me. It's just how my brain works." Imagine if Goodell agreed to meet with Portnoy only to have this old Barstool footage come out where the company's founder prefaces a statement he's about to make about Kaepernick by saying it's racist.

As the NFL, and society in general, tries to come to terms with an ugly track record enabling the existence of racism, one of the biggest missteps is legitimizing businesses whose models often include violating and redefining boundaries when it comes to racism and sexism.

Then when individuals come forward to protest or fight back, they are often subjected to intimidation. And many businesses are willing to avoid direct conflict as a result, increasing Barstool's legitimacy to keep growing and continuing to engage in this type of behavior.

After all, Barstool has a significant fanbase and they represent potential customers for companies, many of which are more than happy to listen to Portnoy when it comes to pizza recommendations as well as other products.

There's profit to be had and people who consume racist content buy stuff too.

Portnoy responded to Goodell's decision by calling him a coward.

“You have cowards, you have mega cowards and then you have Roger Goodell. Don’t let me win it and then come up with this.”

It's easy for people to sympathize with what Portnoy has said about Goodell, because the commissioner has so often been wrong. And in this case, using the failed background check was a flimsy excuse, prompting many people to agree with Portnoy and say that the commissioner should've honored the fact he won the auction and met with him.

It came off as Goodell's personal grudge, turning down the opportunity to take a meaningful stand against Portnoy's troubling behavior, which is a legitimate reason not to meet him. He would rather ignore Portnoy than take him on directly. As the NFL comes to terms with its failings on racial issues and specifically has to own the way Kaepernick was treated, avoiding it becomes more and more difficult, especially if the NFL wants anyone to believe they are trying to make real progress.

Portnoy's past antics, which the NFL cited to void the results of the auction, including faking Super Bowl credentials in 2019 and being arrested for engaging in a protest against the NFL related to DeflateGate, were harmless. Irritating and a thorn in the NFL's side, sure, but they did no real damage. Finding ways to profit off of them is simply smart business.

“I’ve told everybody – Roger Goodell has no self-awareness, no sense of humor, doesn’t know how to deal with a brain like this and he can’t be the funny guy. … He’s the least funny human of all time. He’s a yes man, he’s a puppet and he’s a coward, and this proves it.”

Portnoy did all of this, knowing the end result ahead of time. He knew that Goodell would never allow him to win, would never afford him the opportunity to meet and used that to rally support from 'bro culture' under a flag of opposition, which was the plan from the start. Despite Barstool being valued at around half a billion dollars, Portnoy was able to define himself as the sympathetic underdog, allowing him to continue the aspects of his business which are downright disgusting.

From Roger Goodell to the NFL as a whole and any companies that want to practice social responsibility, more should be done to push back against what places like Barstool continue to use as content if ending racism is a serious goal. For starters, call it out for what it is.

As Joe Thomas penned in his article for the Players Tribune, "being “not racist” is just not good enough. 

White America must confront the fact that racism is real. We must empathize with those facing it, actively call it out, and bring it to light in all its forms."

The same Joe Thomas has been a guest on Barstool's platform and been to events they've hosted. Whether Thomas knew the depths of what some personalities with that company have delved is unknown, but he knows now. It's up to him to decide how he proceeds from here and whether he actively calls it out as he prescribed.

Baker Mayfield has spoken out against racism, written letters to Congress and the governor's office of Oklahoma save a man from death row man named Julius Jones. These are admirable steps and should be applauded as such.

Mayfield has also been a guest on Barstool's platform on numerous occasions and there is merchandise sold with his name and likeness on Barstool's website. It's a conflicting message to send. Mayfield has never done anything that suggests he accepts racism, but he also presumably stands to profit from a company that has proven it will traffic in racism and sexism as a form of content. And if he doesn't stand to profit, then he's allowing a company to use his name and likeness to make money while engaging in this behavior.

It undermines what Mayfield is trying to fight for in public as well as what the Cleveland Browns organization is trying to do with their recently established 'Be The Solution' campaign. A business relationship with this type of firm couldn't be further from the solution.

There are countless examples of Portnoy acting downright vile when it comes to issues or race or gender, most of which are too vulgar to include. Goodell, seemingly by accident, stumbled on to the right answer, refusing to legitimize Portnoy. Whether it's members of the Cleveland Browns, past or present, companies or individuals, it's difficult to imagine a country where racism is dead when people who say they won't accept it, align themselves with companies that profit from it.

It's difficult to fathom listening to that clip describing Kaepernick as a terrorist and then try to rationalize engaging in a relationship with the company that produced it.

Comments (13)
No. 1-7

I agree what he said was very wrong and he regrets it too but you have to realize he is a comedian. If you look at most comedians they have crossed the line quite a few times but that is what makes them funny. When your dealing with touchy subjects trying to get a laugh out of people your bound to cross the line sometimes. The problem with society is that now we are getting to the point where comedians aren’t going to be allowed to say anything that offends one person. There are actual problems that need fixed in society for sure but comedy is the place you go to laugh about them and take your mind off them. This whole cancel culture thing doesn’t make anything better. what really matters is about changing policies. Barstool is a great funny place to go to laugh about things and sure they have crossed the line a few times but so has everyone so stop slandering barstool just because one day they are going to be more popular than you.


Great article. Thank you for all the content you put out and be safe.


Well written. The easy answer is to just tell fans that if they don't want to support Barstool, then don't. Unfortunately, if I come across an article about Joe Thomas or Baker, I'm going to click. We all will. It is necessary to speak truth to this issue. This article is truth.
I'm sure, as young players come into the league, they promote their "brand" on as many platforms as possible. Without pressure to examine the decisions they make, this will continue without recourse.
I don't always agree with Pete Smith. But the answer to the complex problems society faces today lie within facts and the willingness to express them. Fine Job.


I understand why you were nervous about this piece. However I would say if those that you mentioned read this I believe they'll find this enlightening and reflect. Rather than be defensive you mentioned them at all. True change isn't made in comfort often and I believe the aforementioned will appreciate the information they very likely were just oblivious. I believe, as unfortunate as it is, your best work has been coming out lately in the form of a knowledge anti-racist. Thank you and please keep up the good work


If you know what Barstool Sports is about this article is a miss. They make fun of everyone and yes his take on Kap was wrong but that does not make the company racist. As far as sexism goes Barstool's women employees have repeatedly come out to say that that is the farthest thing from the truth.


Great points made.

Shawn Stevenson
Shawn Stevenson

Great article of separation from people/businesses promote a culture of prejudice. I personally watched Portnoys pizza review as food fan but was cognisant of his spotty reputation. But I have also recognized the overall ignorance of barstoolsports as a whole. Its an obvious culture for a “specific group of people” that doesn’t promote minority inclusion. That’s definitely something the NFL must distance itself from. Sadly Goddell doesn’t feel like the guy to successfully get it done.

Featured Content