"Who's Matt Fitzgerald?" Dave Portnoy Asks, I Answer: Wild Backstory On Breakout Barstool Blogger With An Acting Master's Degree

How many Barstool Sports bloggers do you know who've sang and played guitar at Lincoln Center, and kicked off an acting talent showcase at New York City's legendary Actors Studio? I'm betting I'm the first. I was initially hired by this company because I'm a (responsibly) betting man (with a very modest bankroll). -100000 odds that no one in Barstool history matches that description.

That's what's so awesome about Barstool Sports. People come from anywhere, everywhere, out of nowhere, and are given free rein, flexibility and creative latitude to try out what they want to do. It's an encouraging, positive environment where you can find your lane. There is real time, patience and genuine care invested in you.

I believe I'm only scratching the surface of what I can do and contribute to this company and for that I'm really excited. The reason I'm writing this stems from Barstool's big guns calling me out, and downright uncertainty as to who the heck I actually am. So here goes.

I know they've been doing the top 20 bloggers list callout on "Barstool Pick 'Em", but imagine my surprise when I see THIS from Week 3's recording. I skipped to the timestamp and it's highly necessary to watch this for a mere minute to appreciate the full context.

I met Dave in person later on this very day and had a great exchange. No complaints. He gave me props for my blogging prowess, the full extent of which he's not aware of because, well, the man has a million balls in the air and I'm still quite new to the Barstool scene. Getting to shake the Founding Father's hand was an honor. Our fearless leader. Captain of the pirate ship, etc. Dave now knows who I am. Huge.

What I'm interested in addressing here is the ensuing confusion about who I am/what I've done and do at Barstool Sports and how Big Cat mixed me up with Cleveland-specific blogger Will Burge. This recent Twitter exchange actually saved me some writing, and features the relevant excerpt that I'll expound upon:

You may be wondering, "If you performed at Lincoln Center and the Actors Studio, why aren't you just an actor?" 

Complicated, that. I went to an amazing graduate school. My primary teacher in the final year for scene work and audition techniques was Susan Aston. I'll share a quote from the late, great James Gandolfini from her official website to give you a mere idea of how much of a badass she is as a teacher/acting coach/human in general:

"Susan is as much a part of all this 'Soprano' thing as me. It's fifty-fifty…she's given me great insight into things I never would have thought about… I think she's brilliant, and I wouldn't be here without her. That's a fact."

Ms. Aston is one of the smartest and most hilarious people I've ever known. She got 50-50 credit from Tony Soprano himself for helping bring to life one of TV's most iconic characters ever. That's the caliber of training I was getting. I learned things about myself through that program I never would've been aware of or even had the wherewithal to examine otherwise.

HOWEVER, I was running out of money by the time I began paying back student loans when I graduated the Actors Studio Drama School's three-year master's program in 2019. I narrowly missed out on a potential track at Williamstown Theatre Festival (it's a big deal in the theatre world but probably means nothing to you), did some short films, and got co-writing/acting credit on a devised theatre play I did in Brooklyn, overseen by two wonderful, incredible ASDS faculty members in Dr. Brian Rhinehart and Jee Duman.

My plan all along was to get a sports job on the side while I chased acting gigs. I could not find one to save my life. Seriously. I did some freelance work, and had a little job covering entertainment/movie news for a startup-type situation and nothing else to really hang my hat on. Literal hundreds of applications. Minimal savings on a perpetual drain.

FINALLY, a sports job broke my way: Got a job to write a sports betting newsletter at a startup. Was aggressively pursuing a dream theatre role in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull at the same time where traveling/logistics would've been a nightmare but I didn't care….then you know what happened. COVID.

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Seemed like a really unideal time to try to launch an acting career. Never mind an unhealthy dose of depression on top of that. I did have a couple workshops with Broadway casting/music directors via Zoom and some sort of charity fundraising performance deal, but it didn't take me long to decide, "I'm gonna focus on sports survival jobs, put my head down, work, and reevaluate from there."

The startup with that sports betting newsletter job, where I wrote evergreen betting content and game breakdowns, had to let me go for cost reasons amid the pandemic. In a roundabout sort of way, after grinding at another sports job after that, the experience I gained actually set the stage for my initial shot at Barstool.

Thank you, Nick Martuscelli

Shout out to this man who I've yet to meet personally but is amazing. At my last company, Sportsnaut, I worked there from November 2020 to September 2021. I went through the trouble of counting: I wrote 1,017 articles in that span. And very few of those were short on word count, many long. Burnout was real. Not blaming anyone, that was just the reality of the situation with how small the staff was and what needed to be done to hit certain traffic goals and so forth. It was a similar workload to my first-ever professional job at Bleacher Report, where I was on the top news writing staff for about four years and 7,000+ published articles (not an exaggeration) before my planned, drastic career change to acting. That path isn't yet dead for me, even as I've rolled with the wave and made this incredible, unexpected opportunity at Barstool my primary focus. 

Before arriving here, could I have done more to try to video/social media/podcast my way to something better on my own? I suppose but when you grind so hard on writing alone, just trying to pull yourself back from that and function as a somewhat normal human being is a real battle between the ears. You want to get away from sports. Especially when all your work is remote and there's no one to really lean on but yourself and family/friends.

Anyway, applying to jobs on the side just to get another slew of rejections left me feeling not so great. It was sort of engrained in my DNA that I should be grateful for any sports opportunity that's full-time, even if the demands seem borderline unreasonable. Meanwhile I'm trying to wrap my head around somehow getting back around to that acting thing.

I'm on LinkedIn one day, and I see, "Nick Martuscelli viewed your profile". I see that he hires for Barstool Sports. I see they have a brand-new position of SPORTS BETTING NEWSLETTER that they're creating. I couldn't apply fast enough.

After interviews with Nick, Stu Hollenshead, Marty Mush, Jack McCarthy and Big Cat, wouldn't you know it!! I got the job!

So again, thank you, Nick Martuscelli. I hope to properly meet you soon.

I can't emphasize enough how hard I was punching the air, and believing that with the explosion of sports betting and the immense growth at Barstool, I was SET! This was IT!

How I went from on-the-chopping-block newsletter writer to breakout blogger

As you might've guessed since you've never read a sports betting newsletter from Barstool Sports, that project never launched. I sent an internal email to a select group of folks at the company for a time. They were beyond patient. I did it seven days a week. I was taking feedback and making adjustments as they came. In the end, despite many positive reviews internally, the directive was, "Either Dave is writing it, or Big Cat's writing it, or nobody is."

When so much time passes by and the job you're hired to do is stuck in neutral, you start to shut down a little. Sorry. Going back to my acting school training here and taking ownership of this feeling: I, personally, started to shut down. I wanted to go to the office and meet people. But newsletter was 3rd floor, content was 2nd floor, my newsletter hadn't launched, and I was more than a tad apprehensive. I felt embarrassed, and unworthy of setting foot in the office until the job I came there to do was well-executed and running smoothly.

Not a great, proactive mentality to have but that's the unfortunate, insecure, ugly truth. Fast forward several months and I'm on the precipice of being let go. Bless Stu Hollenshead — who was fully ready to give me a glowing recommendation for my next set of job applications — he let me have a meeting with Hubbs and Nate about anything I could contribute to the blog, but called it "a long shot". Was not expecting much to come of it, despite my extensive track record of quality sportswriting.

Instead, much to my delight, they said they had a need for sports coverage, writing at night, weekends when possible, etc. NFL free agency had just been hitting, I was given a shot to blog about the Bengals, and…it went pretty well.

I even got to step in and fire up NFL Draft content. I don't have sources like Steven Cheah who tell me Quay Walker will be the first linebacker drafted, but let the record show, I, too, nailed the first seven picks of my final mock draft.

Even better: Hubbs and Nate did not limit me to blogging only Bengals/NFL Draft.

Blogging at Barstool has been my favorite job ever

In my professional working career so far, I don't think it's hyperbolic to say whenever I've had the slightest crack in a figurative doorway of opportunity, I've kicked it in.

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That applies to my once-in-a-lifetime experience of auditioning to get into drama school as well……..but I'll leave that story for another day.

So if you're still questioning the merit of my being at Barstool Sports, or the basis upon which I was hired since my sports betting newsletter ultimately failed, I would like to share with you just some of the betting highlights I've had since I started working here, either via personal wins or betting preview blog recommendations…or both:

  • Derek Stingley Jr. to be the NFL Draft's No. 3 overall pick, +6500 odds
  • Matthew Fitzpatrick to win the U.S. Open, +335 odds
  • NBA Conference Finals: An 11-1 run on the Over/Under, 8-4 ATS/ML
  • Colorado Avalanche to win the Stanley Cup, +350 odds, placed on 4/12/2022
  • Saint Peter's to cover/upset Purdue in March Madness
  • DeSean Jackson 1st TD scorer, Thanksgiving 2021, +3500 odds
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I have receipts for more but that's just a sampler. On the blog, in case you haven't seen my stuff to date, I've covered NFL, college football and basketball, NBA, NHL, golf and some fun movie/TV news stuff. Probably some more topics that aren't springing to mind.

It's been so fun to write for Barstool because I can let things rip, write fun headlines and take risks. Hubbs and Nate have saved me from myself a few times already with some of the bad ideas I've had. I'm excited about the chance to keep improving as I go here. I guess that's why I've stuck with writing for this long. There's always a chance to grow, learn, evolve and get better in some way.

I take pride in my work. My real name is on everything. I'm used to that. But I don't have some cool Barstool nickname. This is me. Flaws and all. A lot of the more brash stuff I tend to say in blogs (including this one) is in jest. Anyone who knows me well wouldn't mistake me for an uber-confident person. If anything a little too self-effacing. Still, I find that I need to keep myself in check sometimes. Having this much freedom to write whatever and say whatever can be a double-edged sword. I'm imperfectly working through how to navigate that. 

My first pass at this particular post leaned into some of those brasher qualities, but I was snapped back, took a hard look at myself and had to assess where the line was between fictitious, sort of arrogant embellishment and how I really feel. On that note…

Tying it all together

Something about the blogging space that dawned on me as I was writing this and fleshing it out a little more relates to a key concept I've learned in acting. It's beautifully simple: Know your role. If you're in an acting ensemble, and have a supporting part, but try to upstage everyone and make a concerted effort to steal every scene you're in, it's not gonna go well. That ties into the importance of being yourself, your true self, because no one will be better at that than you. Whatever that means, right? Hehe.

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How that applies to here: You could view Barstool's main blogging group — or anyone in content, I suppose — as an acting ensemble. I know it's weird to say. Follow me on this analogy for a bit. We're here to provide entertaining, engaging content. Everyone has their role to play, because it's uniquely tailored to their strengths. Each individual is specifically great at the topics they cover, and as long as everyone's on the same page and we have a director/directors — i.e., the editorial staff — who have a clear vision of what we want to execute, the results should be really good. Even better, all of us have the ability to stretch and show our skills across as wide an array of topics as we want, as long as it's not infringing on someone else's territory.

All this is to say, when a blogger gets lots of pageviews, it shouldn't be some perpetual resentment-inducing stimulus. Or petty competition fodder. A little bit of that can be healthy when viewed in good fun. The main thing is, when any given one of us bloggers wins, it's a win for everyone. Right? That's my little take on that. I don't believe it to be soft or anti-competitive. It's just a good energy to send out as a means of fostering a healthy, team-oriented atmosphere.

What I hope to keep doing for now, bottom-line, is crush blogs, hit on bets at a respectable rate and make the written word not go completely out of style just yet. I have random singing, guitar-playing and acting chops that I intend to put to use somehow. No clear plan on that front yet.

I've started coming to the office more lately. Over the years I've gotten used to being self-sufficient, working alone in silence. For a while there, I was on the fringes and perpetually uncertain about my job status. Now I feel better, of course. I've been laser-focusing on writing like my job depends on it, because it did, and still does. I'm not intending to slow down. I'm interested in all the different potential avenues and opportunities Barstool Sports offers, but most importantly, I'm looking to be more connected with people. I've never had an office job before. There's a lot of "new" happening and I'm still getting my bearings.

The most tribal situation I've been in as an adult was in drama school and we were all going through really intense personal stuff, working out repressed trauma and snot-crying in front of each other a lot of the time. That was pretty wild and not at all a normal experience for one's formative young professional life. I'm enjoying HQ's slightly more laidback vibe. Everyone I've met has been really kind. Special thank you to Brian Fitzsimmons, who's kept my spirits up all this time as I've scrapped my way to a respectable spot on the blog.

If I haven't gotten acquainted with any of you fellow colleagues yet in some form or fashion, I look forward to doing that soon. I'm Matt Fitzgerald, Barstool Sports-with-an-emphasis-on-sports blogger. And hopefully I'll have a lot more to offer this beautiful place in the coming years, because I don't plan on going anywhere any time soon.

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Twitter @MattFitz_gerald/TikTok