After the agreement was announced, some of that criticism became public. Sam Ponder, the host of the high-profile “Sunday N.F.L. Countdown,” tweeted screenshots from Barstool articles that included crude and derogatory statements about her.
In response, Burke Magnus, an ESPN executive, said in a statement that the comments about Ponder were “offensive and inappropriate,” and made clear that ESPN controlled the material on “Barstool Van Talk.” The show was not broadcast live.
But Ponder is far from the only female ESPN employee Barstool has published derogatory articles about, and the site has also harshly criticized several of ESPN’s N.F.L. reporters for their coverage of the New England Patriots and Deflategate.
Just days before the agreement was announced, in the wake of stories in The New York Times and The New Yorker detailing accusations of sexual assault and harassment by Harvey Weinstein, Elika Sadeghi, who had previously worked for Fox Sports and ESPN, tweeted a contract that an unnamed media outlet wanted her to sign.
The language in the contract seemed “aimed at inoculating a company against future claims” of sexual harassment, according to several lawyers interviewed by the Boston Globe, with at least one suggesting it was legally unenforceable.
Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy responded to Sadeghi’s tweet with a rambling video in which he called her, among other things, a “big mouth” and “biggest fraud.”
Last year Portnoy sold 51 percent of Barstool to Peter Chernin’s Chernin Digital Group, at a valuation of between $10 million and $15 million. Chernin brought on a chief executive, Erika Nardini, who previously worked at AOL and other media companies. Her mission was to make the company more professional and strike big deals, like the one with ESPN. As ESPN’s cancellation demonstrates, that will be a difficult process.
The about-face for ESPN continues a calamitous six months for the company, which has included laying off 100 employees, a self-inflicted controversy around a broadcaster named Robert Lee and tussling with the White House over “SportsCenter” anchor Jemele Hill’s tweets and her subsequent suspension.