Barstool Sports, which rose to prominence on a platform of “sports /smut” (as described in 2011 by its founder) and has been eviscerated for embracing the worst of misogynistic bro culture, has been making inroads lately in an attempt to be more mainstream.

They’ve added documentary film to their docket (and in fact interviewed me a few weeks ago for an upcoming piece about a Minnesota scandal) and most notably have partnered with ESPN on the show “Barstool Van Talk” set to debut Tuesday on ESPN2 featuring two of its more prominent personalities “Big Cat” and “PFT Commenter.”

The ghosts of Barstool’s past (which aren’t dissimilar from Barstool’s present), however, are creating some major tension when it comes to that ESPN partnership. On Monday, ESPN’s Sam Ponder tweeted out screen shots of an offensive article published by Barstool in 2014 in which she was referred to as a “bible thumping freak” and in which it was insinuated her role at ESPN was to be attractive (in quite bad language).

Ponder wrote along with the screen shot, “Welcome to the ESPN family (& welcome to all ur minions who will respond to this so kindly).”

There is also a recording of a Barstool NFL predictions segment in 2014 that descends into a minutes-long rant about both Samantha Ponder and Christian Ponder — her husband and a Vikings QB at the time — that includes her being called a “slut.” (The rant starts around the 8 minute mark).

Christian Ponder jumped into the Twitter fray, taking aim at Barstool and anyone defending it.

Sam Ponder later clarified that it wasn’t Big Cat who wrote the offensive post in 2014, but her clarification only cut deeper.

Meanwhile, ESPN is caught in the murky middle — a bed of its own making. A spokesman issued this statement to USA Today:

The comments about Sam Ponder were offensive and inappropriate, and we understand her reaction. She is a valued colleague and doing a great job for us. As stated previously, we do not control the content of Barstool Sports. We are doing a show with Big Cat and PFT, and we do have final say on the content of that show.”

That statement is wishy-washy wishful thinking, at best. Is ESPN saying they’re OK partnering with a site that has gone way overboard with an attack on one of its employees as long as they don’t do it on this ESPN show? Sure sounds like it.

How is anyone supposed to take that seriously — and how is any female employee at ESPN, Ponder or otherwise, supposed to feel about all of this?

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