Update: The USOC has updated their statement with the following:
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.
Last night I was amusing myself with the thought that maybe there’s someone at my blog host who was poking around site traffic stats, saw this significant spike on a not-very-heavily-visited site, thought to him/herself, “What the heck?” and took a closer look and discovered the excitement was about…knitting? And the Olympics?
About midday (PDT) yesterday, my site stats looked like this:
When I checked after getting up this morning, it looked like this:
In case you’re wondering, the lines of delineation in those shots are 100 and 1000, respectively. So as of this morning, over 7000 people stopped by my blog, most looking at my post regarding the cease and desist (C&D) letter sent to Ravelry by the US Olympic Commitee, accusing us of denigrating the Games and disrespecting the athletes. And I’m under no illusions that I was but a minor drop in that bucket. Gawker wrote about it. So did About.com. NPR has picked up the story as well. For a time, #ravelympics was trending on Twitter.
I’m willing to bet the uproar took the USOC by surprise…and I suspect I know why. In an Open Letter to the US Olympic Committee posted on the Crochet Liberation Front, Laurie Wheeler was the first to mention something I’d thought of – that crochet, knitting, and other releated handcrafts are traditionally considered “woman’s work” and discounted accordingly. The USOC may very well have assumed that the standard stereotype of old women in rocking chairs was all that was to be found on Ravelry.
Well, if they expected us to take their insults quietly, to shamefacedly beg pardon for our wrongs and go away, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Regardless of our age – and yarn crafters fall across the spectrum – we’re strong and, as needed, loud.
Caught entirely off guard, the USOC rushed to get a statement out. At least, I hope this was a rush job. Because if not, this statement from USOC Spokesman Patrick Sandusky should have the USOC rethinking their PR representation as much as their legal representation.
My intent for today’s blog post was to put that insulting letter behind me for the most part and talk about how, the USOC’s attitude notwithstanding, I still intended to knit and design during the upcoming Olympics and participate in whatever the Ravelympics would be called this year. I still intend to do that, and to write about it. But first, I’d like to respond to Mr. 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.
I appreciate that you (belatedly) recognize our passion, not that we left you with a lot of choice. And yes, we “may know” about the whole funding issue. Your law clerk mentioned it. We’re not stupid, and we can read.
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.
Wait a second – let me get this straight. What we received was a “standard-form cease and desist letter?” It is standard business practice for the USOC to send letters to people accusing them of “denigrat[ing] the true nature of the Olympic Games” and “[being] disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes?” With all due respect, Mr. Sandusky, I question your business model if this is the case.
And I have to ask – did you actually read the “standard C&D letter?” How could that not have been construed as a personal attack? It accused us of denigrating the Games and disrespecting the athletes. That’s not “suggesting” that we’re not supportive of Team USA; that’s saying it outright.
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.
Gall, Mr. Sandusky, absolute and total unmitigated gall – you have it. You’re willing to show your support for Ravelry by allowing us to provide you with our hard work for free? That’s rich, it really is. I suppose we should be grateful you’re not requiring us to pay for the right to support the athletes like the rest of your sponsors, but I’m afraid I can’t work up much gratitude right now.
Although if you’re serious about that, I strongly recommend that the first step you take, if you haven’t already, is to contact the Woolsack organization, who would be thrilled if you could help them provide the US athletes with the handcrafted cushions that have been donated…since the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games have withdrawn their support over sponsor concerns (sound familiar?). I’ll have to warn you – they don’t necessarily support Team USA. Like a significant portion of the Ravelry membership, they’re not from the U.S.A. But like everyone who has participated in the Ravelympics in the past, they’re willing to look beyond national borders in the spirit of bringing yarn crafters 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 crafters. (I’m sure you recognize that line, since you’re familiar with the standard C&D letter I paraphrased from.)
I hate to say it, Mr. Sandusky, but I don’t think this is going to quiet the furor as much as you were hoping it would. The irony is that an actual apology, one that you meant and one that indicated familiarity with the situation and the Ravelympics, would have most likely been the end of it. Sure, people are going to be disappointed if we can’t use the name Ravelympics (I know I will be), but the majority of posts I saw on Ravelry acknowledged that – regardless of whether we agree with Congress’ actions or the heavy-handed way you enforce your trademark to the point of trying to crush a small winery local to me here on the Olympic Peninsula – you have the right to defend your trademark. And if that was all your letter had said, none of us would be here today. I’m a knitting designer myself; I understand having to defend my copyright.
So, I’d like to offer you some friendly advice, and I hope you’ll accept it in the (Olympic) spirit in which it was offered: start over. Take down the “apology” that is adding insult to injury and post something along these lines instead:
Dear members of Ravelry and yarn crafters everywhere,
On behalf of the USOC, I’d like to apologize for recent events. Having read the letter sent to the founders of Ravelry, I see that rather than just defending our trademark on behalf of the athletes we represent and their hard work, we also spoke very dismissively of your hard work and misrepresented your actions. Now that someone has actually looked at the various Ravelympics groups on Ravelry, we see that far from disrespecting the athletes, you have spent your time challenging yourselves in the true Olympic spirit while watching the Games and cheering the athletes on. We truly appreciate your support.
For future Games, we would love if we could work together with any Ravelers who would be interested in supporting Team USA and our athletes, and to all Ravelers, thank you for supporting your various teams.
Feel free to use any part of that, Mr. Sandusky. It would be great if you could throw in letting us keep the name, but I understand if you can’t and the lawyers can’t work that one out. In the meantime, apology not accepted.