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I expected more from Wisconsin

What is the cost of earning some internet clout by featuring Barstool Sports on the Jumbotron?

Minnesota v Wisconsin Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Just so we are all clear, these are my thoughts and not the thoughts of anyone else at B5Q so if you’d like to discuss this further, you know where to find me.

On Tuesday night, the Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team played the Penn State Nittany Lions in the second game of a home-and-home and, hey, Wisconsin won this time! That’s great. I attended Wisconsin for college for many, many years and have been a fan of the Badgers for even longer than that. I always want them to win, in any sport, and am happy when it happens.

What makes me less happy is when the Wisconsin athletic department partners itself with Barstool Sports.

Before the game on Tuesday a pre-recorded video of Dan Katz in his grey UW crewneck sweatshirt was played with Katz, better known as Big Cat, introducing the Wisconsin starting lineup. Katz, like me, is a graduate of Wisconsin, and he and I actually attended school at the same time.

If you’ve spent any amount of time online discussing sports you know what Barstool Sports is, but — just to clear up any confusion — it is a large company of bloggers/content creators that has built its empire on a culture of racism, sexism, homophobia, and online harassment of anyone who calls them out on this. Founder Dave Portnoy is a noted bigot and he, and many other Barstool staffers, have often found themselves at the center of controversy due to something offensive they’ve said/tweeted.

Katz, who hosts the popular podcast Pardon My Take with Eric Sollenberger aka PFT Commenter, is often trumpeted as “one of the good ones” at Barstool. It’s easy to see why, too. Katz is affable, funny, and has a “Midwestern everyman” appeal that he plays up. However, none of that can separate him from Barstool and what they stand for to many people.

Presumably, the Wisconsin athletic department wants to be an inclusive place where anyone can feel comfortable and aligning themselves with Barstool so prominently gives the opposite appearance. Just one week ago, the CEO of Barstool Sports, Erika Nardini, sicced Barstool’s rabid fanbase of racists and sexists on bloggers and journalists that cover the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League) in a video she posted because they were being “haters” toward her. Kevin Clancy, aka KFC Barstool, recently tweeted this in reference to a host of sexual misconduct allegations brought against LA Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway:

Discrediting women who had the bravery to come forward about past sexual harassment and doxxing women who don’t want Barstool stench on the league they cover is all par for the course for Barstool and their employees, even up to the highest levels of the company.

Now, that brings us back to Katz. He is rarely, if ever, one of the Barstool folks that is in the center of these problems, but he should not be allowed to sidestep them. His name is “Barstool Big Cat” and he allegedly has an ownership stake in the company since he has been with them for so long. Could he have pushed for things to go a different direction? Could he have spoken up when one of his colleagues said something offensive? Could he have done more?

He is now one of the most popular figures in sports media and he just allows his perceived view as “one of the good ones” at Barstool to shield him from any controversy or connection to what everyone else is doing.

The Wisconsin Badgers athletic department should not be associating themselves with Barstool Sports. It is a bad look on all fronts and an even worse look to host a Barstool personality on your jumbotron during Black History Month while also sending out an email the next day entitled: “Celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day with the Badgers!”

The average Barstool reader/listener does not need anything else to make him, and it’s almost always a him, feel more welcome at a sporting event. Women do. People of color do, too. Putting Big Cat on the jumbotron before a basketball game makes it clear to them that they aren’t valued or particularly welcome at Wisconsin basketball games.

Head coach Greg Gard was asked about the video in the postgame press conference and everyone had a good laugh about it. Gard said, “Shout out to Big Cat for giving me the Silent Assassin thing,” like they are old pals.

How do the players feel about having someone from Barstool on the jumbotron saying their name before a game? Maybe they don’t care. Maybe it’s all in good fun to them. Starting center Micah Potter thinks it’s “dope.” But what if others don’t? Is alienating a player or players on your team worth it to get some engagement on Twitter? Is making your team less welcoming to fans worth it for “internet clout?”

We reached out to the Wisconsin Athletic Department and the men’s basketball team on Tuesday afternoon and asked them about how this video came about and whether or not they knew about Barstool’s reputation, and they haven’t responded yet.