Pima County spikes funding for Az Bowl over Barstool Sports founder's rape comments
The Pima County Board of Supervisors has pulled nearly $40,000 in funding from the Arizona Bowl due to ethical concerns with the newly announced title sponsor, Barstool Sports.
Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, and some company employees have been accused of racism and sexism, with Portnoy notorious for making jokes about rape.
The county approved the funding for the Arizona Bowl in June before Barstool Sports, a digital media company focused on sports and pop culture, was announced as the title sponsor on July 27. The University of Arizona has hosted the Arizona Bowl's Division I football games between teams from the Mountain West Conference and Mid-American Conference since 2015.
The supervisors voted 4-1 to withdraw the funding for the football game at a meeting Tuesday. The Arizona Bowl has not disclosed how much it will be paid by Barstool.
"I feel that the current sponsor does not represent who we are as a region or as a community,” said Supervisor Sharon Bronson, the chair of the county board, who called for the cancellation of the funding to be put on the meeting's agenda. "I don’t see how we, in good conscience, can give financial support to an organization with a documented history of offensive and inappropriate statements."
Barstool's Portnoy has been filmed using offensive language, such as the N-word while rapping to Ja Rule's "Livin' It Up."
"Memo to the cancel cops. I knew this was coming before you did. And I'm ready. You don't cancel me. I cancel you," Portnoy said in a since-deleted tweet responding to the controversy over the video.
Portnoy's attempts at humor invoking rape have also been highly contentious.
"Even though I never condone rape, if you're a size 6 and you're wearing skinny jeans, you kind of deserve to be raped, right?" Portnoy said in one prominent incident.
The local organizers of the bowl game defended their choice of Barstool as the main sponsor prior to the board's vote.
"Barstool Sports is objectively the most influential media company in America today," Kym Adair, the executive director of the Arizona Bowl, wrote to the supervisors, noting that the company now has a female CEO.
Adair pointed to the company's charitable giving and said "the entire community will benefit from the huge increase in tourism" from the bowl, and said that the group used a "lengthy vetting process to evaluate Barstool as a partner."
"Although, there were two to three moments in Barstool's past that their critics will use to highlight them as a misogynistic or racist company, the (Arizona Bowl) board felt that those comments were made a long time ago, that the company had demonstrated that it wasn't a misogynistic or racist company, and felt comfortable that the company had evolved into a better version of itself, learning from some of those miscues," she wrote in a letter to the supervisors.
The supervisors will discuss reallocating the $38,155.56 to another organization next week, with several of them indicating they wish to support groups working to stem domestic violence and support rape victims.
"This game should celebrate and showcase our community, but I believe that many members of our community will not feel part of the event because of the actions and words of Barstool employees," said Supervisor Rex Scott. "The Arizona Bowl can make its own decisions about its title sponsor, but county government must consider other factors in considering whether to associate itself with that decision."
Members of the Tucson City Council have also indicated that they're preparing to pull more government funding of the bowl.
Ward 3 Councilwoman Karin Uhlich condemned Portnoy and Barstool's "long, troubling history of crude humor and misogyny" in a memo and requested city officials begin the process of withdrawing financial support.
Uhlich cited the 2011-2012 nationwide Barstool Blackout Party Tour targeted at college students as an example of the company's behavior.
Portnoy received backlash from comments made to defend the tour in December 2011.
"Just to make friends with the feminists I'd like to reiterate that we don't condone rape of any kind at our Blackout Parties in mid January. However if a chick passes out, that's a grey area," Portnoy said.
Ward 6 City Councilman Steve Kozachik also expressed his disapproval of the partnership in his newsletter.
"I have no idea what the financial deal is between Barstool Sports and the Arizona Bowl, but there are times when standing for an ethical position shouldn't be for sale," Kozachik said.
"Given the recent history of the UA football program and incidents/allegations of sexual assault, as well as the whole idea of sports gambling in collegiate athletics, I’m a bit surprised the leadership in athletics and the UA president has been silent on this new sponsorship," said Kozachik, who was a staffer in the University of Arizona Athletic Department until late last year.
The nonprofit group that operates the Arizona Bowl rents a Downtown office in a city-owned building.
Kozachik wrote in an email newsletter this week that "when the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission agents confiscated 300 fake IDs and refused admission for around 75% of a Blackout Party event’s 2,000 ticket holders, Portnoy said they wouldn’t be scheduling any more events in Boston because 'it just doesn’t seem like Boston is friendly to the nightlife of our sort.'"
The Barstool founder "brings to Tucson and the University of Arizona campus a history of being unapologetic for the racist and sexist language he has used in the past," the city councilman wrote. "It’s controversy I’m a little surprised the Arizona Bowl was willing to embrace – even to get a title sponsor."