Knockout Barstool: Fighting Against the Trivialization of Rape

On February 2, a group of Boston University students ventured to the House of Blues, joining the Northeastern University members of a group called “Knockout Barstool” in protesting Boston Barstool Sport’s “Blackout” party. Shouting “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Rape culture has got to go!” the students, female and male alike, held a party of their own outside the venue.

Rape culture” describes a climate in which rape has been trivialized. Some of examples of rape culture are jokes like, “I just got raped by that chem exam!” Rape culture also encompasses victim blaming. Victim blaming is what occurs when someone says a rape victim, having been dressed provocatively, was “asking for it.” The girls of  the “Knockout Barstool” movement believe the blog Barstool Sports is laden with examples of rape culture at work.

Barstool Sports is a 7 year-old blog curated by media man and huge Boston presence David Portnoy, or “El Pres,” as his faithful followers affectionately call him. As one would expect, the Barstool Sports website features primarily sports news. It also has regular features such as “Smokeshow of the Day,” “Guess that Ass,” a hot-or-not style game called “Smoke Smash,” and “Grading the Newest Sex Scandal Teacher,” a column in which he grades female teachers accused of sexually assaulting students in areas of physical attractiveness and bad judgment.

Portnoy’s site has been under fire in the past. In one incident, Portnoy posted a nude photo of Tom Brady’s 2 year-old son and referenced the child’s genitalia in the adjacent article. Portnoy subsequently removed the photo from the site after being advised by the police to do so.

The website also hosts “blackout” parties. At these parties, which have been touring the northeast, college students wear neon clothes and dance under black lights in a club-like setting. Many people believe the party’s name, “blackout,” connotes getting blackout drunk.

A group of Northeastern University students banded together to fight their school’s association with a Barstool blackout party. The students created a cleverly titled group: Knockout Barstool. They feel that in taking a stand against these parties, they are taking a stand against a website they believe perpetuates and contributes to rape culture. Their efforts began with a simple Tumblr.

BU students at the February 2 protest. | Photo by Sasha Goodfriend

The following are interviews with both a founding member of Knockout Barstool and “El Pres” David Portnoy on rape culture, accountability, and the possibility for future protests.

Anna Siembor, founding member of Knockout Barstool:

Q: What is the ultimate goal of Knockout Barstool?

A: Originally we wanted Northeastern to publicly disassociate themselves from Barstool Sports, and this is still one of our goals. But because of all the attention and support we’ve gotten, because other universities are getting involved, we want to create a dialogue about the epidemic of rape on college campuses. … Ultimately, no Barstool Blackout Tour will go unchallenged in the eyes of a student body.

Q: Have you had any direct contact with representatives from Barstool Sports?

A: No. We have not. Dave Portnoy has done nothing but insult and harass us and encourage others to threaten, stalk and insult us.

Q: How do you think organizations like Barstool contribute to rape culture?

A: Joking about rape normalizes the idea of sexual assault. From a recent BS article: “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 though.” That’s supposed to be a joke, but women (and men) have been raped when passed out. It happens every weekend, at parties, bars and clubs. Why is that OK to joke about? Because rape has been normalized. Because people don’t understand the psychological trauma a sexual assault victim must go through.

Q: In what ways, other than demonstrations such as Knockout’s, can college-aged girls stand up against rape culture? Why is it important that they do so?

A: College aged women and men can both stand up against rape culture. They can write blogs or simply just talk to their friends. They can practice enthusiastic consent in their own sex lives. It’s important because safety is important, because equality is important.

Q: What are some of the occurrences of rape culture you think college students have become “blind to”? How is rape culture a presence on the campuses of Northeastern and BU?

A: Some stoolies have dismissed us as ugly butch lesbians. Apparently, it’s the worst insult they could think of. I think that speaks to perceived importance of the male gaze. Women are told that if they are not attractive, they are nothing. Even now, when women make up more than half of incoming college students, we’re still being made to feel secondary, as if we’re just eye-candy. We know to cover our drinks so we don’t get roofied. We know to hold out our keys as a potential weapon if we’re alone and looking for our car. We say that other women are sluts if they’re wearing clothing that in any way exposes their shape. These are all examples of rape culture, of things that wouldn’t occur if we didn’t victim-blame.

Q: After Northeastern’s blackout party, will those who’ve dedicated their efforts to Knockout move on? Or will they find another cause to contribute to?

A: Knockout Barstool won’t end after the NU Blackout. We hope to bring KOB to other campuses, including BU and BC. We will continue to fight for equality and educate about rape culture.

David Portnoy, President of Barstool Sports:

Q: When and how did you discover the existence of the “Knockout Barstool” campaign and what was your initial reaction?

A: A couple Northeastern kids emailed me the link.  My initial reaction was that it was a joke started by some over-the-top feminists who hate my guts and have nothing better to do than make a stink about nothing.

Q: Knockout supporters believe Barstool contributes to “rape culture.” What’s your reaction to this sentiment?

A: I think it’s crazytown. We don’t condone rape. The millions of college guys and girls who read us know that. We are a satirical comedy website.

Q: What security/safety precautions are taken at Barstool’s blackout parties to keep partygoers safe?

A: The same precautions that exist at every concert venue in the United States. Professional security hired by the venue.  We’ve had zero sexual assaults/complaints or anything of that nature in seven years of throwing parties.  The only police report in seven years of business that has been filed has been by KO Barstool against me for apparently being funny.  It’s easy for five people at KO Boston to bitch and moan but the facts are there are no facts to back up anything they say.

Q: How does Barstool plan on addressing any protests at future blackout party dates?

A: Ignore them.

Q: From a post addressing Knockout Barstool: “I don’t know what misogyny means but if it’s good we’re it and if it’s bad we’re not.” Being that misogyny is “bad,” do you deny any misogynistic tones on your website?

A: If you’re asking if we make jokes based on stereotypes the answer is yes.   Not just women but everybody.  KO Boston shouldn’t be crusading against us.  They should be crusading against comedy in general.


Last thing… 99.9% of college students love Barstool.  Guys and girls.  We’ve had more girls in the last minute ask for tickets to our sold out events than KO Boston has in their group.  I will give these girls credit that they are a determined bunch.  But they are serial protesters.  If they weren’t making a stink about us it would be something else. Facts are we don’t condone rape.  We’ve made off color jokes about everything in every walk of life.  I believe they have two examples of rape jokes that were clearly satirical in seven years of blogging.  That’s hundreds of thousands of blogs.  Everybody with a rational thinking mind knows that.  There is a reason girls and guys love the site. Basically this handful of women are trying to tell the rest of the world they are smarter than them and know how they should think and act.

On Saturday, March 31, the House of Blues will play venue yet again, this time to Boston University’s own blackout party. Members of BU’s feminist collective, Fem Co, have gathered to create a protest of their own. In several blog posts, David Portnoy has responded to the actions of Knockout Barstool. These “sluts” and “crazy bitches,” as he has called them, are tossing around ideas for an alternative party and educational events on rape culture. With their determination and the backing of Knockout Barstool’s founding members at Northeastern, one can imagine it will be difficult for “el Pres” to simply “ignore them.”

About Ingrid Adamow

Ingrid Adamow (COM '14) is Editor-in-Chief and also a writer for The Quad. Ingrid is an advertising major and enjoys reading, writing, good music, fashion, coffee, and adventures around the city of Boston. But mostly coffee.

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7 Comments on “Knockout Barstool: Fighting Against the Trivialization of Rape”

  1. KOBarstool is a sad movement that’s an insult to people that actually take society’s issues with rape seriously. It’s unfortunate that any BU publication would actually give such an out of touch group of people any level attention. College students, male and female, love Barstool, and any sane individual who actually thought the website “perpetuated rape culture” would immediately stop reading it and condemn it. That simply hasn’t, and won’t happen and the overwhelming majority of Boston University students who know what Barstool Sports is will continue to read the website on a daily basis through the proper lens of satirical comedy.

    1. Cyrus.

      While you may think that you “take society’s issues with rape seriously,” it is obvious by your comments on this article that you have, in fact, FAILED to do so. I feel bad for you and bad for all the other ignorant people out there who have failed to recognize that Barstool Sports creates an environment online that is demeaning to both women AND men. This website is especially derogatory towards women. I LOVE comedy and I am an avid fan of satire and use it in my everyday vocabulary BUT there IS a line. The problem with the Barstool Sports blog is that the claimed “satirical angle” used in the blog is in no way smart or witty. It is in fact disgusting and objectifies women. The act of “Guess That Ass” online translates into real life and no matter how separated from the internet you may think you are…you ARE not. All the media that you see affects you and your brain and the way you process things. Objectifying women online, even if it is in an supposedly “satirical and harmless” way, absolutely causes men to talk about women in such a way in their real lives. This objectification of women is what has created rape culture in the world. I see this everyday. I also see women giving into this culture and starving themselves, not just of food, but of their education in order to make time to primp and appear perfect to men. So…Cyrus; YES it is a free country and YES Barstool Sports is a legal blog and I know your response will be that we should leave them alone and let them provide humour… but by spending even one minute a day on that website you are supporting rape culture. It is a vicious cycle and 100’s of cases of sexual assault have gone UNreported at these “Blackout” parties because they are different than regular concerts. “Blackout” parties literally condone and encourage men and women to BLACKOUT from drinking. REMEMBER just because women aren’t coming forward about sexual abuse it does not mean it isn’t happening. If you feel OK going on Barstool knowing that your activity on the site might have even the SLIGHTEST chance of ending in a women’s being sexually abused at a blackout party then you have no self respect and no respect for the incredible women in this world.

  2. In response to Cyrus’ comment, beliefs like that are exactly the problem. The point of rape culture is that it’s so embedded into our culture that people don’t realize how much of an issue it is. Barstool Sports is satire, yes, but some of it is satire in very bad taste. I can take a joke about a lot of things, but I don’t think jokes about violating someone’s body in any way are appropriate. Ever.

    1. John,
      This is an article not an opinion piece. The subject, however, is primarily the affiliation of some BU students with the group. After all, the Quad is a BU publication and I wanted to focus on the Knockout Barstool-BU connection, the contributions of the students and their mission to “fight the trivialization of rape.” The input from Portnoy was helpful, and I did want representation from both “sides.” In total honesty, I do see where you’re coming from though and I understand it might seem skewed. Thanks for the input.

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