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No 'gray area' in Az Bowl sponsor Barstool Sports' promotion of rape culture

A survivor of sexual assault on why the Arizona Bowl should drop its new title sponsor

More by Kat Stratford

Note/TW: This opinion piece includes descriptions of sexual assault.

"Subtle sexual harassment is fine and dandy."

"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? I mean skinny jeans don't look good on size 0 and 2 chicks, never mind size 6′s."

"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 gray area though."

— David Portnoy, founder/chief creative officer of Barstool Sports

These are just a few of the "jokes" you'll find if you do a quick Google search for Barstool Sports. Now, as a human being with an actual conscience, I obviously have a lot of thoughts about this, but before I get into that, I want to offer some context:

Two years ago, I woke up sick. Really sick. I'd been drugged while out with friends. They'd left early, leaving me with my partner's best friend. It took a few days to piece together what had happened. Someone had been in my house. I had been assaulted. Suspicion turned to my partner's friend due to his behavior that evening and another woman's identical allegation. My partner quickly broke up with me for suspecting his friend. I wound up in the ER with an ulcer that would later contribute to a cardiac event.

The police never interviewed him. The bar this took place in never returned a call. And of course, my former partner is still friends with my suspected rapist.

My stomach has never fully recovered and I still have to monitor my blood pressure regularly. Permanent heartburn is the only prize I will ever gain from this.

"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 gray area though," David Portnoy joked.

If you've been following the Barstool controversy since they took over as a title sponsor of the Arizona Bowl, then you've probably seen the above quotes and many more of the crude and offensive comments of Barstool's creator, his followers, as well as their contributors and their content. But in case you needed more on the important, sports-related series they feature on their website, here are some highlights:

Barstool Smokeshows — what sport website would be complete without pictures rating attractive coeds?

Guess that Ass — exactly what it sounds like: another innovation in inspired online content.

Smoke Smash — a Hot-or-Not-style feature. We've come so far, ladies. But let's not forget my personal favorite….

Grading the Newest Sex Scandal Teacher — that's not a typo. They're literally rating the attractiveness of accused child molesters.

On top of all that, female employees have said they were forced to sign contracts that explicitly state they could not object to "nudity, sexual scenarios, racial epithets, suggestive gestures, profanity and stereotyping," thereby literally creating a workplace culture that openly encourages sexual harassment. It's a lot. And none of it's good, or worthy of representing our city or our university. Not just because it's crude or offensive, but because it trivializes and even promotes sexual violence, particularly against women, and that's the very definition of rape culture.

For me to say that this partnership between Arizona Bowl and Barstool Sports, and promoting these ideas is dangerous might sound like an exaggeration, but according to RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), women ages 18-24 are at an elevated risk for sexual assault and harassment. Approximately 1 in 4 female students experience rape through violence, physical force, or incapacitation (i.e. passing out at a Blackout party, which Barstool notoriously throws near college campuses with the stated purpose of getting attendees "blackout" drunk).

But surely, not at UArizona, right? They'll obviously take steps to address sexual violence on campus. Right….?

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Not so much. Unfortunately, the University of Arizona has a longstanding reputation of failing to protect students who report sexual assault. Particularly when those accused happened to be in the Athletics Department.

So why would the board of the Arizona Bowl choose for its title sponsor a company that openly endorses sexual violence, when such a partnership could easily foster an even more dangerous environment for women on campus and at athletic events?

There are a few options. Either they didn't know, which seems unlikely given Arizona Bowl Executive Director Kym Adair's letter to the Pima County Board of Supervisors touting Barstool's charitable donations as well as their diverse staff (I will again reference the contract cited above). Adair's letter dismissed "two to three moments in Barstool's past that their critics will use to highlight them as a misogynistic or racist company."

Profit seems like a more likely motivator, but the cost of these profits seems steep. This partnership with Barstool also includes exclusive streaming rights. So, the Arizona Bowl won't be on TV, but rather fans will be directed to Barstool's platforms, and therefor also their content. This seems likely to backfire, since I'm willing to bet plenty of would-be fans might not care to go to greater lengths to watch the game, costing the Bowl valuable ratings.

But for the superfans who are going to be watching via Barstool, they will also be ingesting dangerous rhetoric that encourages rape.

That may sound extreme, and I'm not implying that everyone who watches the game will be instantly corrupted simply because Arizona Bowl's board has chosen to partner with a company known for openly promoting sexual violence.

But I am saying that Arizona Bowl's board has chosen to partner with a company that is openly promoting sexual violence. On a campus where one in four female students will be assaulted. At a university that is already struggling to address their problem with sexual violence.

I question what message the Arizona Bowl's board of directors is sending to women on campus. To our entire community, for that matter, since this is a problem that harms much more than just women.

And I demand to know what kind of message the Arizona Bowl's board is trying to send to people like me? The one in four women on campus grappling with the aftermath of rape. The 31 percent of us who develop PTSD after our assault.

How about the one in three of rape survivors who seriously consider taking their own life? What message is being sent to them?

"If you're a size 6 and you're wearing skinny jeans you kind of deserve to be raped right?" — David Portnoy, Founder/Chief Creative Officer of Barstool Sports, Title Sponsor of the Arizona Bowl

"Their reach is unmatched." — Kym Adair, Arizona Bowl executive director

***

Earlier this week, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to revoke $40,000 in taxpayer dollars that had been set aside for the Arizona Bowl, over their partnership with Barstool Sports. Tucson officials are also taking a look at the city's support for the bowl.

Kat Stratford is a single mom and activist in Tucson. She has previously worked as a Rape Crisis Advocate at the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault, and has been working for the last two years to promote policy ideas that support survivors of sexual and domestic violence.
  If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, you are not alone, and there is help available. Call SACASA’s 24-hour hotline at (520) 327-7273 to speak to an advocate for help, resources, or even just to talk when you’re in crisis. This is not your fault.


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