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Blogger pulls Brady baby photos

Sports Web boss complies after State Police visit and urge him to remove nude toddler images

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By Peter Schworm and Laura J. Nelson
Globe Staff / August 17, 2011

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The sports blogger who sparked controversy by posting photos of Tom Brady’s nude toddler son has removed them from his website after police with the state’s attorney general’s office showed up at his Milton home and urged him to take them down.

David Portnoy, who runs the popular and controversial website BarstoolSports.com, said state troopers told him they had received a multitude of complaints about the photos and said that “it would be in the best interest of everybody involved’’ if he removed them.

“I’ve never had cops knock on my door for anything in my life,’’ Portnoy said in an interview yesterday. “That is not a coincidence that this is one of the first times I’ve taken something down.’’

Portnoy came under harsh criticism after posting paparazzi photos of Brady’s 20-month-old son, Benjamin, playing on a beach in Costa Rica without clothes. In the posting, Portnoy crudely remarked about the size of the boy’s genitalia and referred to Brady, the star quarterback for the New England Patriots.

Attorney General Martha Coakley said yesterday that police went to speak with Portnoy as part of a preliminary investigation to determine if the posting was illegal under child exploitation or other laws and said her office was grateful he agreed to take it down.

But several First Amendment specialists said they found it troubling that the state’s leading law enforcement office urged Portnoy to delete the post in response to public complaints and probably pressured him, intentionally or not, into surrendering his free speech rights.

“I think it’s a real stretch that this is a criminal matter,’’ said Jonathan M. Albano, a Boston lawyer who specializes in media law. “And there’s an inherent element of coercion when civilians are faced with police in uniforms.’’

Portnoy said that he did not feel pressured to remove the posting, but wrote on his site that “when staties show up at your door, it’s hard to say no.’’

The free speech specialists said that law enforcement should not intervene in such a situation unless they have already made a determination that a posting may be criminal.

Portnoy said he removed the post shortly after police visited his home Friday evening. He had previously taken it down briefly after receiving a cease-and-desist letter from the modeling agency of Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, but soon reposted it.

Coakley said her office found the picture “troubling, to say the least.’’ She said her office was investigating whether the post amounted to child exploitation, but after speaking with him determined charges were not warranted.

“We went to see Mr. Portnoy and asked if he would be willing to remove it,’’ she said. “He was, and we’re grateful for that. We think that was the right result and, in light of all of that, we believe that the matter is closed.’’

A spokesman for Coakley’s office said they received numerous complaints from the public, but none from Brady, his family, or members of the New England Patriots organization. A spokesman for the Patriots said neither Brady nor team officials had contacted the attorney general’s office.

Brady’s agent did not return calls seeking comment.

Lawyers said Portnoy would probably not face child pornography charges because he did not appear to have “lascivious intent’’ in posting the picture. Some said that posting the images may have violated the child’s privacy rights, depending on where the photographs were taken.

The posting drew a heavy backlash from sports fans who felt the posting was tasteless and exploitative and possibly criminal. A sports radio station, WEEI-AM, said Portnoy was no longer welcome on the air.

“What he did was completely irresponsible,’’ Jason Wolfe, the station’s vice president of programming, wrote on the social networking website Twitter. “It’s not about whether he was allowed to do it or not. It’s about common decency. And he showed none.’’

The controversy has vaulted Portnoy, whose site features a mix of lowbrow humor, sports and pop culture commentary, and scantily clad women, into the media limelight. Yesterday, he appeared on both the Howard Stern show and local public radio.

He has remained unapologetic throughout.

“I obviously still stand by the fact I had every right to do everything I did, but I’m not looking to make cops jobs more difficult than it already is, so I complied,’’ he wrote. “I went with my gut, and my gut said just make it easy on everybody at this point.’’

Portnoy said yesterday he posted the photos after someone e-mailed him a link to them Thursday afternoon and gave it little thought.

“We’ve done a million Brady blogs,’’ Portnoy said. “Every one of them, we try to put a different spin on why he’s the best. For this, the pictures we had, that was the spin. The content - everybody’s focusing on the headline, but if you read the text below it, it is clearly about Tom Brady.’’

Portnoy said the troopers did not indicate he was the subject of an investigation, but treated him politely. Portnoy said he did not feel pressured to remove the photos.

“I didn’t consider any of it threatening,’’ he said. “If I had felt threatened, I don’t think I would have’’ taken them down.

Still, Portnoy expressed frustration that he agreed to the request, saying he felt as if he had “sold out.’’

He dismissed the idea that he meant the post as a publicity stunt, saying he had “no intention of this going viral.’’

“We are a Boston blog,’’ he said. “We have a long history of posting Brady photos. Whatever Tom Brady does, we talk about.’’

Peter Schworm can be reached at schworm@globe.com.

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