Tag Archives: 2012

Disparaging Handcrafts In The Name Of Law – How Far Does It Push Us Back?

Well the lack of a good apology from the USOC continues.  They seem to stand by the attitude that we have denigrated and disrespected, with no correction or word since the 2nd apology saying, “we know you clearly didn’t mean to.”

Mr. Sandusky, all you have to do really is state clearly that you and your office did not intend to imply that knitters and crocheters disrespect or denigrate the Olympics and professional athletes at all.  Simply expressing regret that the words were used only means you wish you didn’t have to deal with us.  Saying you know the we didn’t mean to denigrate and disrespect is patronizing at best, but clearly does not retract the verbiage directed at our collective cultural activities around our support of the Olympic Games.  All this may have started with a law clerk, but it’s escalated to you – and instead of seizing an opportunity, you didn’t make things better.

Bloomberg Business Week has posted a thorough article this morning on trademark protection and Why the U.S. Olympic Committee Cracked Down on a Knitting Group.  In the article they, like many others, fail to recognize that Ravelry is not just a knitting community, but also a crochet community.  But more than that, in their article they fail to recognize that the main issues Ravelers have had with the cease and desist letter from the USOC were much less about the name of our knitting/crochet games (Ravelympics) and much more about the insulting nature of the letter and our desire to see a back track and correcting statement issued about the language used.  Language which Bloomberg does not elaborate upon, but simply calls “harsh.”

Harsh is not the description I would use.

So I had to write a comment.  In fact, I’ve never written so many comments on news sites ever before.  I’m not up in arms, raising a pitchfork, calling for retribution or slinging names.  Rebel I might be, but that’s never been my style.  I’m not interested in boycotting the Olympics and I have no vested feelings in the corporate aspects of trademark issues right now. In most everything I have written, I’ve tried to be professional, reasonable and thorough.

But these recent events do strike at issues I care very much about.  The future of handmade, the future of respect for women (do not misunderstand my meaning there either) and the future image, reputation and preservation of crochet (and knitting).  And for me, it heaps discontent with the way law is thrown around and allows for “those who can” to get away with saying anything they can spin.  Yarn Harlot called for knitters to calm down their stung feelings and to accept the USOC’s first apology.  And though I appreciate her article about trademark issues and legalities, and many of her calm and reasonable words about our collective behavior as knitters (ahem – and crocheters), in principle I cannot accept an apology that is not one.  In principle, this is part of where we go wrong in the US with our tolerance of media spin from public figures.

In my world – words mean things.  And each apology from the USOC (which by the very nature of coming from a communications office and law office you know they are carefully worded) has only served to stand by the initial insults and create more.  Being “bigger than that” does not mean taking it when someone bullies you and then says in front of the teacher – awww shucks, Billy, I didn’t mean for you to take it that way.  It means calling for attention and a change.  Not just for the USOC, but everyone who engages in such behavior, because they can.

Supposedly we are a polite society.  As such, all our leaders bear a responsibility to reflect that professionalism.  And when you screw up, you bear the responsibility of consequences and making corrections.  Whether we are talking about politicians, or organizations that supposedly represent our cultural/national/international interests, I will accept no less.  Because when I do accept less, what eventually will the future be?  Little different than as it is in child rearing, if I allow for my child to get away with something that in principle is wrong, I set their future up to fail.   What world will my grandchildren live in?  A world where nothing that is said is ever honorable or sacred anymore.  Shut up crybaby.  I said I’m sorry, now go away.  Even when “I’m sorry” really isn’t stated and the issue is the disparaging of the craft and character of good people.  There is a responsibility there, and it hasn’t been fulfilled.

Mr. Sandusky sir, do you realize the hard work many of us have poured our lives into, in garnering respect for the fiber arts?  For a very long time we have been the red-headed step-child of the creative art world in general.  And it’s only recently we’ve gained a second look in terms of skill and artistic value for what we do, for the creations of our hands, for the history and heritage behind it.  Thanks to you, a giant step forward in how we are perceived may be taken back.

Here is the comment I shared over at Bloomberg:

First off, we are a community of knitters AND crocheters. Secondly, even the second apology only said we know you didn’t “intend” to be denigrating, while the first said we would like to show our support of Ravelers by letting you send us free handmade stuff. There has not yet been an acceptable apology about the real issue – which has nothing to do with the name of our knitting/crochet games while we watch the real Olympic games.  And it has not been about the trademark protection.  We might have been disappointed, but we would have understood if the letter was simply – hey, we need you to not use the name.  But that’s NOT what the USOC did.

The real issue we Ravelers have had was the unnecessary and insulting statements and inference that knitting and crocheting through our games during the real Olympics was an insult to real athletes who work and train hard.  And the continued inference that somehow it’s OK to insult a large group of mainly women who strive to keep hand-arts alive and preserve our collective heritage – around the world.  The USOC’s apology was no apology.  It was almost worse than the original letter.  The owners of Ravelry didn’t completely organize those games on their own.  That was a grass-roots type gathering (if I can use the analogy for a global group of people) of fiber hand-makers from around the world who came up with and supported the idea.  All these people from a variety of different cultures and backgrounds, all coming together over one main thing we share – our love for knitting and crochet, along with in this case, our love for our countries and the Olympic games.

Saying that we “denigrate” and “disrespect” the spirit of the Olympics and real athletes was like jocks vs. the geeks or men vs. women all over again.  They weren’t just talking to Ravelry owners, they were talking to all of us.  The USOC “apologizing” by essentially saying, “we’ll make a show of good will by letting you send us free stuff” and “we know you didn’t *intend* to be denigrating” is not an apology.  The USOC has disparaged our crafts and our character.  On a global scale.  And further made us the butt of many jokes in the press.  (Thank you Bloomberg for not following suit.)

This should be corrected.  We strive enough to keep our cultural crafts and heritage not only alive, but growing.  Having a giant organization disparage us is devastating in more ways than one.  And crochet? It’s the very last fiber art left that can not be replicated by a machine. It will only be alive as long as people do it.  The advancements made in our crafts every day by us designers will only continue as we are supported.  It’s as if hand-made in general has been pushed an unfortunate step back as we struggle for respect and preservation.  Being insulted this way is incredibly disheartening and shouldn’t be acceptable, especially in the name of law.

For me, it’s never been an issue about possible trademark infringement and needing to change the name of our games.  I think it seems a little over-reaching since the name is not specifically “Olympics,” but I can see possible ground, knowing also that I am not an expert in law.  No, the issue has always been the obvious and unnecessary language used to disparage hand arts.

I have finalized my decision to mail my crochet hook and a letter to the USOC.  I do this knowing I may be alone in the action, but determined none-the-less to stand on principle and be heard.  And determined to put my money where my mouth is and do more than rant on the internet.  I will do something tangible, sending something real that someone somewhere will have to hold in their hand and then decide what to do with.  It might not be much, but at least it’s something pointed, honorable and peaceful.

Principles matter. The insulting language issued by the USOC was wrong.  Even in the supposed “apologies” issued, that language was never taken back, merely “regretted,” glossed over and spun, while pointedly avoiding a real apology.  And as a result hand arts and cottage industries may feel more than just a sting from the slap of such a large public entity, but perhaps may even pay a price.  It shouldn’t be tolerated.  It should be pointed out.  And as for me, I’ll politely take a stand.



Filed under Editorial

Crocheters/knitters didn’t “intend” to denigrate. That’s not an apology USOC.

Ugh. To follow up on yesterday’s brouhaha with the Olympic Committee’s letter to Ravelry: Looks like we’ve hit the big time.  Crocheters and knitters took center stage in the news.

Gawker was the first to cover Ravelry’s plight. Though their take on the story handily left crocheters out of the picture.  Though I didn’t see it until later, seems next in the day was Hot Air with their article, “The Olympic Committee just messed with the wrong old ladies.” I don’t think too many of us appreciate their title, but they did write a fair article and also pointed out, like I did, that “knitting actually was an Olympic event at one time.”  My Google-Fu is strong.

It might have seemed it would pretty much stop there, but #ravelympics began trending on Twitter.  And before we knew it, NPR, New York Times and USA Today were all covering the debacle.  Albeit, with lots of references to women with pointy sticks.  Hey, we hookers are a part of the Ravelry community too you know!  However, Fearless Leader’s open letter to the USOC and Crochet Liberation Front was mentioned in two of those three.  That’s pretty something.  Still, I would have liked to have seen less humor and pointy stick references and a little more respect for an inappropriate use of language slung at a largely female demographic.  Journalists are having a field day with the puns in their coverage of #ravelympics.  We got attention alright, but there’s a few more snickering undercurrents than I would like.  Aren’t we so cute with our hooks and our sticks waving?

To sadden me further, New York Times reports that the organized “knit-in” turned up one lone person.  Well, that’s the way to be respected and set a precedence of ignoring anything any other group might unfairly experience at the hands of a large organization again.  And if a membership largely made up of women can make a lot of noise online, but not put their money where their mouth is and actually show up for a protest, what makes you think that helps any cause ever that involves women.  Good at being loud, but just don’t have the chutzpah to actually do something real.  If there were more peeps there, please, please post the pictures.

While many knitters seem to be quieting down, I’m still quietly crocheting a strip of bacon to mail in to the USOC.  It takes time I don’t really have, but I feel strongly that there needs to be a real and tangible response and not just a temporary internet roar.  Even if it does take some time, money and patience to do it on my part, there needs to be a reminder.  This can’t be the end of it.  And though I picked bacon for speed and ease of mailing, because if I could get it there today I would, I personally desire a demonstration of skill as well.  Though after the snip about accepting free hand-made items from us as a show of support, I also thought seriously about mailing them my crochet hook in protest instead. In fact, I like the idea of hooks and needles filling their office just about as well as bacon, crochet poop and an amigurumi middle finger – additional suggestions left by our tweeps and blog peeps yesterday.  Hmmm… An envelope dumping out a hook with a note that says “I will not crochet for you,” in principle feels rather satisfying actually.  I think I’ll reserve the right to change my mind today.

Jocks aren’t the only ones who work all their lives to hone a skill.  And I say that as a mother in a community that fosters and supports aspiring athletes.  My kids attend a charter school that was originally founded for children pursuing the Olympics and such.  A free school, I will point out.  I am friends with families of all walks of life who hold Olympic and athletically competitive dreams, poor and wealthy.  So I’m not ignorant of what it takes.  I know all too well the tears and stress on a family and the athletes and the skills required.

But if you want to compare breasts to balls, my skill will nurture and keep someone warm, even in the worst of times.  However, with the first apology’s reference to supporting us by asking for free handmade stuff, I’m not of the notion to send them anything they might enjoy too much.  I’ll hand-make and hand-deliver something to an Olympian any day.  Funneled through the USOC under that pretense?  I don’t think so.  Or at least I’m not convinced yet.

A second apology has been tacked on to the first from the USOC. I read it, but it’s still legalese. They said they know crocheters/knitters didn’t *intend* to denigrate or disrespect.  You can read it on the USOC website here.

Statement Update:

“As a follow-up to our previous statement on this subject, we would again like to apologize to the members of the Ravelry community. While we stand by our obligation to protect the marks and terms associated with the Olympic and Paralympic Movements in the United States, we sincerely regret the use of insensitive terms in relation to the actions of a group that was clearly not intending to denigrate or disrespect the Olympic Movement. We hope you’ll accept this apology and continue to support the Olympic Games.”

Ummm…. Excuse me? That’s not an apology.  I’ll bet you regret the use of the terms, but you’re still saying we denigrate and disrespect, but that you clearly see we did not intend to.  No, I don’t feel like accepting an apology written for public spin.  Words mean things.  And I will not infer for you what you have not said.

Additionally, the claim was made yesterday that the letter sent to Ravelry was a form letter. Hence, gee – it was nothing personal and we aren’t really responsible. One of our readers also kindly shared the link to a similarly approached letter sent to the “Redneck Olympics” which you can read here: http://lettersfromaway.wordpress.com/tag/redneck-olympics/.  The article includes photo copies of the entire letter they received.

Yes, it looks like the USOC cut and pasted phraseology from the “red neck” letter to ours, but I have failed to find this phraseology in any other posted letter from the USOC. Many people have received letters addressing trademark infringement, shared them with public and that part of course is not our issue with the letter to Ravelry.  The issue was the insulting language used against knitters and crocheters who were supporting and watching their teams.  We’re not even talking about a separate event that piggy-backs off the idea of an international sporting event.  We were supporting the real Olympics and encouraging ever more people to watch.  Hello.

Beyond even all that, by definition, a form letter is not compiled and tweaked individually. Just because phraseology is similar does not make it a form letter. Calling it a “form letter” is meant to give the impression that there was no personal attention put to the creation of the letter and that everyone receives the exact same thing.  And that’s simply not true in this case. 

Denigrate, disrespect and unappreciative – these are the words they used to describe us in the act of supporting our Olympic teams.

In fact these appear to be the only two letters where such wording has been used.  An event in support of the actual Olympics and does not use its name and one that does not support and does use its name.  Which means in essence, that the law office considered the activities of knitters and crocheters who hand-make things while watching the Olympics to  be comparable to events of body humor that poke fun at the Olympics themselves. With a cliched image of “Here Bubba, hold mah beer and watch this.”

There we go. That’s awesome. I feel more respected now.

I say this, because on a personal level I absolutely feel that toilet seat horseshoes, no matter how fun it might be, is a bit disrespectful when being directly called “Olympics.” The red neck event was not about supporting their favorite Olympic team.  And I say that as a Texan.  So our handcraft skills have thus essentially been compared to a tongue-n-cheek beer party, something generally considered at best to be mildly inappropriate in polite company. I’m not saying there’s not a place for redneck games. I’m saying I can understand the phraseology of the law clerk’s letter being used for that situation because the Olympics wants to maintain a certain image of what they represent and frankly bobbing for pigs feet isn’t that. Even to me, good ‘ol BikerMom from Texas, it sounds more along the lines of Fear Factor material.

So first the USOC apologizes by saying, we’ll show support for Ravelry by letting you send us free hand-made things.  Then they apologize to us by saying we know you didn’t intend to be denigrating or disrespectful.  Where in this do you find an acceptable apology in any polite society?  It’s not one and I don’t have to accept it as one.

I’m sorry, I expect better, especially from an organization that supposedly represents our interests, peace, world community, etc. to the rest of the world.  And from an organization that insulted not just a US community, but an international one.  They insulted and defamed Olympic supporters on a global scale. And neither apology rises to the appropriate level they should.  The slam is still there.

Mr. Sandusky was further referenced by the New York Times as stating that his wife and mother-in-law both knit “for gosh sakes.”  Well sir, I bet if you had asked their opinion of the letter before it was sent, they would have said “don’t use those words and don’t say it that way.”

Whether intended or not, the USOC disparaged our names and crafts.  And with knitting as an original Olympic activity, it’s even worse.  Mr. Sandusky needs to step away from the legalese and just make a good apology that turns it around and states officially that Ravelry members actually have not denigrated or disrespected the Olympics through their activities while watching their favorite teams – at all.  That simply, the USOC just wishes the name to be changed please and never meant to denigrate the spirit of men and women just supporting their national Olympic teams.

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