If you were perusing Sports Twitter over the weekend, you might have seen the #cuckcycle hashtag flash across your eyeballs.
So what is CuckCycle? It’s part sex scandal, part slut shaming, part corporate trolling initiative.
In short: The girlfriend of David Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, a sports humor website that makes Deadspin look like Dostoyevsky, allegedly fucked her SoulCycle instructor, and Portnoy retaliated by launching a mass online campaign slut-shaming her and trolling SoulCycle under the term CuckCycle — “cuck” being short for cuckold, a man whose wife fucks around behind his back. (Cuck is also the alt-right’s preferred term for a liberal man, or basically anyone who doesn’t share their jingoist values, as we’ve previously explored in detail.)
It started last Thursday, when Portnoy teased he was going to drop some big news about his now ex-girlfriend.
He also promised to bring back “Grudge Dave,” which, as far as I can tell, is the alter ego he assumes when launching a coordinated cyber-bullying attack.
Portnoy tweeted into the wee hours, during which he gave away his big news: His girlfriend supposedly had sex with her SoulCycle instructor while she was apparently supposed to be monogamous with Portnoy. As if it weren’t clear enough that he was planning to slut-shame her, he tweeted the following:
He wore a SoulCycle T-shirt to work the next day, and relayed the story on Barstool Radio, the site’s SiriusXM radio show. By the afternoon, Barstool had coined the term CuckCycle, which immediately became the moniker for the entire controversy. They even started selling CuckCycle T-shirts.
Selling T-shirts is a big part of their business — a business that’s so successful that Portnoy sold 51 percent of the company last year to media and entertainment mogul Peter Chernin, in a deal that valued Barstool at more than $10 million.
Barstool doesn’t have the incisive writing of Deadspin or the name recognition of ESPN, but it does employ a few genuinely sharp, entertaining personalities. It also has millions of sports fans who read its blogs and listen to its podcasts — many of them intensely loyal and self-described “Stoolies.”
So not surprisingly, once Portnoy put the story out there, his Stoolies did the rest, trolling SoulCycle’s social media accounts to the point that SoulCycle disabled comments on its Instagram account.
One Barstool reader found the Instagram account for a man alleged to be the SoulCycle instructor in question, and Barstool readers subsequently flooded his photos with comments. According to Portnoy, SoulCycle even circulated a memo about CuckCycle, telling its New York City employees to call the police if they encountered anyone from Barstool Sports in a studio.
To be clear, this wasn’t a goof — at least to Portnoy. He created the controversy solely to tell the world how big of a “trashbag” his ex-girlfriend is. Nor is this Barstool’s first controversy — or the first time it’s mobilized its readers to attack women online. In 2010, Portnoy wrote a blog post that joked women who wear skinny jeans deserve to be raped. And two years ago, Barstool readers mobilized against a female journalist who criticized “KFC,” one of Barstool’s most popular personalities. KFC bragged about the whole mini-controversy in a subsequent blog post.
Chernin’s decision to invest in the company was indefensible in light of these events, Michael McCarthy wrote in the Sporting News. “I can’t decide what’s worse: Sports ‘comedy’ sites that routinely demean women, or the corporate enablers who reward them.” (Full disclosure: McCarthy was a colleague of mine at Advertising Age.)
Not that it matters. Portnoy is a professed Trump supporter who gets off on “triggering” lefties (especially feminists), and will likely take the criticism as vindication. Which is to say, he’s a massive, gaping asshole. His whole shtick is a gives-zero-fucks Boston sports fan, and it’s why he’s beloved by his Stoolies.
It also puts him firmly on the attack — so firmly in fact that it subverts any other narrative. For example, from many of the barstools where I’ve sat, a guy whose girlfriend, wife, significant other, etc. left him for her tennis instructor, golf pro, trainer, etc. would’ve gotten a considerable amount of shit for being “cucked” — the blame and humiliation clearly on his shoulders. After all, he didn’t measure up to a man who could ride a stationary bike at speeds that could only make his heart explode.
That, however, isn’t as easy to put on a T-shirt.