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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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It’s Jocks vs. The Geeks Again: Thanks US Olympics Committee – Nobody Likes A Bully!


someecards.com - There is a land called Douche Bagastan, and you are their king.

Jocks vs. the geeks.  Men vs. women. The powerful vs. the weak.  Though laws are meant to help protect people, seems our world never grows up and invariably “law” is used as a beating stick against those whom it was meant to protect. Gee thanks for being a joy-kill.  Is there ever any fun anymore.

The upshot? Seems our dear Ravelympics over on http://Ravelry.com has not only become a “legal” threat to official Olympics intellectual property rights, but apparently a social insult to the Olympics as well.

Seriously.  I’m not making this up.  Do read on.

I received the news during my long 500 mile drive home yesterday while talking with Laurie, a.k.a. Fearless Leader over from Crochet Liberation Front.  She’s already written an elegant and mature open letter response to the US Olympic Committee that you should definitely check out.

I thought about writing one of my well researched and reasonable posts about the matter.  But I just can’t bring myself to it.  I’m mad.  Sputtering mad enough to take time to crochet a granny square or bacon strip to ship off to the USOC in protest.  Haven’t decided which yet.

The specifics?  Firstly, the US Olympic Committee has sent a cease and desist order to my favorite knitting/crochet social community to stop using the term Ravelympics altogether and rename our games.

To quote from the actual letter:

It looks as if this is the third time that the Ravelympics have been organized, each coinciding with an Olympic year (2008, 2010, and 2012).  The name Ravelympics is clearly derived from the terms “Ravelry” (the name of your website) and OLYMPICS, making RAVELYMPICS a simulation of the mark OLYMPIC tending to falsely suggest a connection to the Olympic Movement.  Thus, the use of RAVELYMPICS is prohibited by the Act.  Knowing this, we are sure that you can appreciate the need for you to re-name the event, to something like the Ravelry Games.

This alone is not exactly surprising news.  After all, it’s not the first time organizations and businesses have been forced to change names on the basis of Olympic trademark “infringements.”  Even non-profits have been under fire.  Read Now Public’s 2008 article “US Olympic Committee’s history of lawsuits against non profit organisations” for a far more detailed history than I care to address here.

Usually these cases have involved the actual word “Olympics.”  Whether a spliced word/name like Ravelympics has ever been targeted before, I’m not sure.  I’m not even sure of the legalities.  Like really… especially since there is no profit being made and the sole purpose of these yarny games is to support our teams on a world-wide scale.  After all, crocheting/knitting, especially by women, during any kind of sporting event, is a very long tradition.  Still, I don’t proclaim to be a lawyer and I don’t have a problem in general with a need to protect intellectual property.

But the letter was not a simple generic letter.  And the letter did not stop there.  Here’s where the crux of the social matter really lies:

The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States.  Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect.  We believe using the name “Ravelympics” for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games.  In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work…..

It would have been one thing if the USOC had sent a general letter that said something like – “Hey y’all! Thanks for all your enthusiasm and support!  But we need you to change the name of your games.  You know, trademark issues and all.”  While there might have been disappointment, there wouldn’t have been outrage.

But this is not the approach the USOC took.  They used a battering ram where a pat on the back would have sufficed.  By claiming our knitters and crocheters are denigrating and disrespectful to the Olympics and their athletes, the USOC has likewise insulted and bullied a large demographic of handmade enthusiasts, largely made up of women.  And though I don’t want to leave our “brothers in arms” out of the picture, knitting and crocheting continue to carry a general social slap (at least in the US) as something strictly feminine in nature.

And here’s the kicker.  The original founding father of the modern Olympics included knitting in the list of events.  Did you know that?  Read your own history USOC.

The letter goes on:

The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them.  For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career.  Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes around the world together to compete in an event that has come to mean much more than just a competition between the world’s best athletes.  The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

That last line is something else to note, a principle that Ravelry is hardly guilty of threatening.  If anything, women (and men) coming together around the world to commune simply over the passion to preserve our mutual histories and handcrafts, is pretty something.  And it’s genuine.  Not a show, not a put on.  And it is a skill.  On Ravelry, simple folks like you and me come together in peace – over hooks, sticks and a mutual love for yarn.

To give you background, Ravelympics is the name of essentially a set of grass-roots knitting and crochet contests that have been organized via Ravelry groups.  These yarny competitions are loosely organized for fun and community enjoyment and held during the Olympic competitions.  Knitters and crocheters test their skills and speed, while everyone gathers around their TVs – all around the world – while supporting their favorite Olympic teams and events.

And let me point out, in case it’s not yet clear, Ravelry is an international knitting/crocheting social site. That we join for free.  And Ravelympics supports all Olympic teams wherever Ravelry users participate – around the world.

Few social sites anywhere enjoy the kind of amicable and socially driven international relations found on Ravelry, a user website largely populated by women, but populated none-the-less by fiber hand-makers from around the world.  Those who choose to learn a hand craft skill vs. simply buying a cheaply made mass-produced product and then share that skill on with others.  USOC why would you allow such an insulting letter to be sent?  Face it, you were being bullies.

To be fair, the USOC has made an official statement on the matter today, which you can find on their website here: http://www.teamusa.org/News/2012/June/21/statement-from-usoc-spokesperson-patrick-sandusky.aspx.

Statement from USOC Chief Communications and Public Affairs Officer Patrick Sandusky:

“Thanks to all of you who have posted, tweeted, emailed and called regarding the letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics.

Like you, we are extremely passionate about what we do. And, as  you may know, the United States Olympic Committee is a non-profit entity, and our Olympic team receives no government funding. We are totally dependent on our sponsors, who pay for the right to associate with the Olympic Movement, as well as our generous donors to bring Team USA to the Games.

The letter sent to the organizers of the Ravelympics was a standard-form cease and desist letter that explained why we need to protect our trademarks in legal terms. Rest assured, as an organization that has many passionate knitters, we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.

We apologize for any insult and appreciate your support. We embrace hand-crafted American goods as we currently have the Annin Flagmakers of New Jersey stitching a custom-made American flag to accompany our team to the Olympic Games in London. To show our support of the Ravelry community, we would welcome any handmade items that you would like to create to travel with, and motivate, our team at the 2012 Games.”

My problem still though, is the claim that it was a standard-form cease and desist letter.  (It clearly was not.) And the attempt to “show support of the Ravelry community” by asking us to donate handmade goods to them.  Really?  That’s your token handshake in peace?  After the pain and heartache you guys already put the WoolSack community through? I understand some delivery is now possible but only after months of tears and pain.  Read the details here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2156560/Olympic-cushions-handmade-athletes-latest-fall-foul-LOCOG-fears-row-sponsors.html

That’s right friends.  It’s not the first insult to hand-makers this year.  And I’m just simply disappointed in an organization that supposedly represents our mutual interests in world peace and community.

So crochet something and mail it I will.   Just like farmers mailing broccoli to the White House.   We do not denigrate by knitting and crocheting.  We love, we comfort, we preserve our history.  Who’s with me?  What are we mailing?  Granny squares or bacon?  I just happen to like the visual of bacon slap.

I’ll be using the address signed at the bottom of the letter:

Brett Hirsch
Law Clerk
Office of the General Counsel
United States Olympic Committee
1 Olympic Plaza
Colorado Springs, CO 80909

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