Barstool Van Talk debuts tonight at 1 a.m. Eastern on ESPN2, and the partnership might be on the rocks already, for predictable reasons.
Barstool, as a company, has a history of discussing women in sports using fairly derogatory language. They typically defend it as comedy, pointing to their growing audience as evidence there’s a market for that sort of humor, but it’s always been difficult to ascertain just who at Barstool is in on the joke and whether that makes their complicity more or less excusable.
ESPN is home to plenty of women in sports, including newly-minted Sunday NFL Countdown host Samantha Ponder, who was the target of multiple Barstool attacks/jokes in the past. Ponder clearly never forgot, and a day before the hastily-assembled ESPN/Barstool partnership was set to kick off, Ponder went after Van Talk/Pardon My Take co-host Dan “Big Cat” Katz on Twitter:
— Sam Ponder (@sam_ponder) October 16, 2017
Things devolved from there, with Ponder repeatedly accusing Katz of writing that blog post (which he didn’t actually write; nor did he write the editor’s note, which was the work of Barstool founder Dave Portnoy) as well as mentioning a segment on Barstool’s Comedy Central series The Rundown:
Katz responded by pointing out that Ponder didn’t quite have her facts straight:
Hey Sam, thanks for the welcome. I just want to clear one thing up, I didn't write this blog post (you make it seem like I did) and the rundown you reference I actually defended you.
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 17, 2017
Ponder acknowledged the mistake earlier this morning.
I was wrong in thinking @BarstoolBigCat wrote that article & called me a slut repeatedly. He just continuously laughed along. It was the PRESIDENT of @barstoolsports who said these things. Happy to clarify.
— Sam Ponder (@sam_ponder) October 17, 2017
But beyond the article, this is some audio from 2014 that Ponder may have been referencing. In it, Portnoy and Katz both go off on a lengthy, profanity-laced tangent about Ponder:
— Sensitive Man (@sensitivemann) October 17, 2017
The Spun transcribed it here, in case you’re not looking for NSFW audio (emphasis added):
Portnoy: The Vikings could be the worst team in the league when they don’t have Bridgewater. Ponder’s fraud husband is just a fraud like she is. So I don’t put any stock in that. I mean, f*cking anyone can beat the Ponders. I hate the Ponders.
Big Cat: Let’s go on this rant here for a second. There’s no one worse right now than Samantha Ponder. She is the absolute worst. I hate-follow her on Twitter. I can’t even stand her. Every time she tweets I want to puke all over my computer. Every second that she can tell you that she has a kid and that she’s a working mother, she will tell you that she has a kid and that she’s a working mother.
She’s f*cking bringing her kid to the Grove.
Portnoy: I know for a fact that every day at ESPN, all the suits and all the lawyers, they have their annual – not annual, daily – their daily 9:15 coffee meeting on how can we fire Sam Ponder without being sued for like discrimination. Because she is the worst.
No person watching GameDay wants to see a picture of her and her ugly kid. Nobody cares Sam Ponder. We want to see you sex it up and be slutty and not see some prude f*cking jerk who everybody hates and who’s married to the worst quarterback who wears the ring and “God first” and this and that. Shut up. That’s not what you’re there for.
And ESPN just can’t find out how to fire you. Because they hate you. Because everyone who watches you hates you. Because all you do is talk about your little rat kid that nobody wants to hear about.
Big Cat: (laughing) You’re little rat kid. Show me one person who likes Sam Ponder. I don’t even think Christian Ponder likes Sam Ponder.
Portnoy: She’s the most despised person in the world.
Big Cat: And it’s under the radar too because it’s classic 2014, she’s a mother, she’s a working mother, that tweet she sent out a while ago, she’s standing up for everyone. So everyone hates her but no one will say it out loud.
Portnoy: And it’s like go be a mother off camera on not on GameDay. You might as well have someone in a burka there who doesn’t watch football and is very religious and like all you can see is her eyes interviewing all these crazy kids in the crowd.
Why is she there? Get her out.
Big Cat: There is nothing worse in the world that people who think that we give a f*ck about your kid. I don’t give a sh*t about any kid ever. Like I’m getting to the age where, and you’re already at the age where, some of our friends are having kids. I went to a party a few months ago and someone brought their kid and threw it in everyone’s face. Like, I don’t give a sh*t. I don’t care about your kid. Get your kid out of here, Sam Ponder. Get it out.
Portnoy: There became a thing and I instituted it when we moved the place and we had a roof deck party and there were no kids allowed. I don’t want to hang out with your f*cking kid. Is your kid going to make me laugh? No. Is he going to tell me anything interesting? No.
When your kid gets up to bat in his first Little League game, I’ll go f*cking watch and I’ll root for him. Until then, get him the f*ck out of there.
And Sam Ponder, you f*cking slut. I don’t want you at these games being super prude and talking about God and religion and how your kid is so awesome and breastfeeding when I’m watching GameDay. I don’t want that.
Big Cat: End of rant.
Even three years on, it’s easy to see why that particular rant would stick out to Ponder, even if she got the specific personalities wrong. And while the main antagonist in these examples is Portnoy, the new show is called Barstool Van Talk, after all. ESPN is partnering with the company as a whole, not just the two guys from Barstool with the most presentable personalities. Ponder found support from at least one coworker:
— Sage Steele (@sagesteele) October 17, 2017
As well as support from a predictable source:
Proud of you ?
— Christian Ponder (@cponder7) October 16, 2017
What we have here, though, isn’t likely to go away. It’s reminiscent of every book or movie about mobsters trying to go legit, only to be dogged by their less-than-savory histories. ESPN has to have some kind of response strategy here. It would have been unbelievably naive of the network to get into business with Barstool without foreseeing exactly this kind of controversy.
So what happens now? A short Barstool apology and an ESPN memo reminding employees not to publicly criticize other employees seems like the most likely combination, just to literally get the show on the road. We’ve reached out to ESPN PR for comment but have yet to hear back.
Whether that goes over well with the talent in Bristol, though, remains to be seen.
TFW the haters and losers, of which there are many, try to get your show cancelled a day before the premiere, but you’re too busy pounding donuts pic.twitter.com/X1wLQf1ljL
— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 17, 2017
UPDATE: ESPN released a statement.
From Burke Magnus, EVP, Programming and Scheduling, ESPN:
“The comments about Sam Ponder were offensive and inappropriate, and we understand her reaction. She is a valued colleague and doing a great job for us. As stated previously, we do not control the content of Barstool Sports. We are doing a show with Big Cat and PFT, and we do have final say on the content of that show.”