David Portnoy is a man who founded a sports-n-popculture blog. The webpage — called ‘BarstoolSports.com’ — is categorized as the intersection of sports and smut: A (very brief) perusal by yours truly suggest the blog possesses all the delights of toxic masculinity with the many charms of statistical trivialities occasionally sprinkled with scatological elan — members of the site call themselves ‘Stoolies.’ In short, the aesthetic of the site is working-class white-male brutalism: undistilled and unkempt bros, upon barstools, drinking and watching sports and talking amongst themselves alternately about sports, about drinking and about women.
As you can probably imagine, self-reflection seldom penetrates such a crudely built domain: Barstools are too unstable a platform for that kind of heavy lifting. However, on occasion when we step back, we view the emergent incongruity when entitled white bros with too much money, too much bullhorn and not enough sense speak their piece.
Just such an occasion took place last week. In response to tweets from the burgeoning unionization movements taking place in other sports blogs and across other media, Portnoy bluntly tweeted that Barstoolsports employees responding to such messages would result in immediate termination.
While the threat of termination is almost certainly illegal — under both labor law and the Constitutional principles of free association and assembly — what is truly remarkable here is, first, the space-warping nature of the irony on display, and secondly, the clear inability of many to recognize the whole thing for what it is, another form of inequality.
Barstool. Sports. Sitting on a barstool. Watching sports. At Barstoolsports.com the focus on professional sports is comprehensive and ongoing. The irony is so strong it practically wraps around and kicks itself in the head: all major league sports are unionized. The NFL? Unionized. The MLB? Unionized. NBA? Unionized. NHL? Unionized. All these unionized sports feature prominently and continuously at Barstoolsports.com.
David Portnoy, who’s built a life and fortune around writing about, discussing, analyzing and critiquing the actions and deeds of unionized professional athletes, doesn’t like unions? How can this be? Portnoy won’t allow his employees to unionize — employees who make a living, under Portnoy’s direction, commenting on unionized activities. He is, in fact, willing to peremptorily fire anyone for even getting information about what unions are and how they may be formed.
Wow. That kind of irony is so strong it might fold in on itself and form a singularity: hypocrisy so dense not even an entitled white bro could escape it.
Beside the hypocrisy of a lone sports blog and its owner there is a bigger, more serious, point to be made: we don’t even question the inequality of it; Tom Brady can be a member of a union while some blog writer cannot? Can you imagine what would occur if Robert Kraft threatened to peremptorily fire any New England Patriot for whatever reason?
The crowning irony, if one more be needed, is the success of the athletes: before they were unionized they were generally poorly compensated. One of the very first things the NFL players association did in the late 1950s was to bargain for a minimum salary, league-wide. Tommy Heinsohn, the 1957 Boston Celtics and NBA rookie of the year, retired in the 1960s to sell insurance because he could make more money (he later returned to the NBA to coach the Celtics). The NBA players association initially formed in 1954 but took ten years to fight the team owners for recognition. It was worse for the NHL, their initial attempts at unionizing were busted completely.
What is different about unionizing a professional sports league and unionizing something else, like a blog, a machine shop, or a supermarket? Absolutely nothing.
It is clear that professional sports unions have been successful, both for the players and for the leagues. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business and along with the MLB and the NBA, is a worldwide brand. For some reason, however, we think it ok to sit on a barstool and cheer the success of a fantastically successful group of unions while denying that success to everyone else. Where would that idea come from?