#charityfail: The Olympic Edition (part two)

[Previously, on US Olympic Committee vs. the worldwide knitting community…]

Today, just after noon, the following was posted on Team USA’s official website:

Statement from USOC Spokesperson 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.”

From the feedback at the bottom of the page, folks aren’t necessarily satisfied with this apology, but they should be.

Yes, you can poke all the holes you want the apology by comparing this line:

…we never intended to make this a personal attack on the knitting community or to suggest that knitters are not supportive of Team USA.

with this one:

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.

And the offer to take knitted donations, in the last paragraph of the apology, has been widely scoffed at even though it was clearly made with the best intentions.

But you know what? Organizations say rude things. And then they get called out for them. And if they have any integrity, they post a mea culpa while trying to make themselves look as good as possible (thus the offer to take donated knitted goods).

Top marks Medium-high scores for an apology that is not only timely (in twitter terms this has been going on for ages, but in business day terms this was a 24-hour-turnaround) but doesn’t say “we apologize if you were offended” or “we apologize that you were offended.” They say “we apologize for any insult.”

For this I say, stay classy Team USA (oh, and watch out for the Great White North in these summer games).


7 thoughts on “#charityfail: The Olympic Edition (part two)

  1. Pingback: #charityfail: The Olympic Edition | emmajenkin

  2. My only problem with that is, are they going back on the original letter? Why did they not address the terms denigrate and disrespectful? Can they still call it the Ravelympics and distribute Olympic patterns on their website?

    It was an apology but, the way I read it, it also didn’t go back on the initial (and overreaching) letter. As much as they may not have said “we apologize if you were offended” they also didn’t seem to directly address any issues brought up.

    So, enlighten me on why this was a good apology? 😛 It may have been good for an organization, but if corporations are people in the US (which they are http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._Federal_Election_Commission ) then we should expect an apology akin to what we’d get from a person, no?

  3. Good points.

    Let’s look at them in reverse order:

    1. Corporations = people, so corporate apologies should be as good as personal apologies: If a person was a multimillion dollar asset with a century-old brand that employed thousands of people and prepared constantly for a worldwide event every four years, I think they’d still give this kind of an apology. I’ve heard worse apologies from my students.

    2. Not addressing the issues from the previous letter: this is not to say they won’t. Ok, they probably won’t. It’s commendable they got their ducks in an order enough for this apology where they admit they insulted a group of people. The majority of the negative reaction to the first letter *was* the insult, and not the legal issues themselves. And this letter addresses the insult.

    [Although ridiculous and not worth the trouble, I sympathize (only a little) with the challenge of protecting a brand. Where I send my work’s logo out and see it altered in any way, I get my back up. The logo looks that way for a reason. It was designed for a purpose, to make my organization look good. And to make it recognizeable. And consistent. You can’t use it in any other way than how I’ve told you to use it, and you can’t use it unless I’ve told you you can. So as silly as the C & D letter was, I believe it’s a legit claim, or at least a legit claim made on behalf of the IOC]

    3. That I don’t know, but also think that’s something for the legal team and the heads of Ravelry to work out. I don’t know enough about international copyright laws but I’m sure somewhere it’s written than even if it’s not used for profit, some things are still protected. Regardless if it’s just for fun, and not making any money. But again, the broohaha was over the condescending tone and less about the legal issues. And a pinch of “why would you even bother, it’s just people knitting.”

    Hey, it’s not a perfect apology, and from what I’ve seen online folks aren’t feeling placated (in fact looking to pick more fights – why oh why did they go and ask for knitted donations?) but they got to the point of the insult, and apologized for that. Considering they could have denied any wrongdoing, or ignored it, or half-apologized, I say kudos PR team.

    • I think the biggest thing I take issue with is where you say (and I’m paraphrasing) that folks aren’t satisfied with this, but they should be, because organizations say rude things, and that’s just a fact of life. It’s a fact of life cause we accept it to be, and it’s one I would argue against. Yes, they replied relatively quickly. But they only apologized for the insult, not for the relatively idiotic demands of the initial cease and desist letter.

      Now, the logo thing I can maybe kinda sorta get, but my understanding was this logo was used on patterns. So you can’t hand knit something with the Olympic logo? I just scribbled 5 rings on my notepad, am I in trouble now?

      But I almost can’t see any legitimate argument against Ravelympics. I bet we couldn’t even COUNT the number of events that bill themselves as the Olympics of _____ or the __ympics. This just seems petty.

      I guess my point is, demand more from your PR people, and expect more from your large organizations. Don’t settle for this half-assed, legal douchebaggery. You could do better than this, Emma, they should hire you. 😛

      • I could certainly do better than this.
        My knowledge of copyright law in a little hazy. But. I believe if you scribbled five rings on a notepad and made them available for distribution (as Ravelry patterns are) then yet you could get in trouble.

        Is it silly? Yes. As silly as the knitting patterns. Imagine if it were the Nike swoosh or the golden arches. These companies would reign similar letigious hellfire.

        And yes, it’s petty to go against any and all “-lympics”. And the example of Hanna Barbera’s Laff-A-Lympics never getting the cease-and-desist treatment has been brought up, and rightly so. In my previous post I gave the examples of the baking competition that was banned from having the Olympics as their theme. And yet no peep on the science olympics or art olympics.

        It’s up to them if they do it or not, when they find out about it. And they chose to. Do I agree they shouldn’t have? Yes.
        Do I agree they have the ability to? Yes (and here I think is where most folks disagree – even if they shouldn’t have, it’s within their auspices as guardians of a brand to protect that brand from the evils of knitters and bakers).
        Do I agree they shouldn’t have been rude in their letter? Yes.
        Do I call bull that they didn’t mean to be offensive, or imply that the Ravelympics was disrespectful of the “real” Olympians — because it’s really clear in the C & D that that’s exactly what their words and tone conveyed? Yes.

        Do I commend them for responding to an outcry with remarkable speed, with an apology for their rude behaviour? Yes indeed.

        They only ever had to apologize for the rude behaviour, because that’s the only part that was out of line. Is the C & D petty? Yes. But it doesn’t require an apology.

        Would an apology about the C & D be nice? You betcha. But if the US Olympics Committee said “Sorry, you’re right, continue using our brand and name as you see fit” then there goes their sponsorships — the entire funding structure of the Oympics. The Olympics need to be over-protective about their brand to exist. (any organization does – think if anyone could put Coca Cola or Nike on their products). But it’d be good if they weren’t jerks about it. Not a requirement, but it’d be good.

        And that, in so many words, is why an apology for their rude tone, and not about the C & D, is all that’s needed.

        Addendum: IMO.

  4. Hey, Tom suggested I reply. Here goes!

    You know, my kneejerk reaction to this was to be incredibly pissed off about both the C&D and the editorializing about the nature and status of knitting contained therein. And then I spent some time reflecting upon the matter carefully and impartially, and you know what? I’m still pissed off about both.

    I own a yarn store. I’m a crafter and a knitter and a fiber arts enthusiast. I teach people every chance I get to value and feel proud of their accomplishments in these areas. The thing about this USOC snafu is that this kind of thing happens to knitters, etc. ALL THE F***ING time. And by “this kind of thing” I mean the almost-daily incidents where a bunch of clueless or sometimes willfully unpleasant people (often guys but not always) mansplain to knitters in a patently patriarchal way that their -cute little hobby- is weird, wrong, and/or can be used to make snap judgements about you. Sitting around the table in the LYS making a giant electric blue lace scarf? Some jock is going to wander into the store looking for bus tickets and say “wow, aren’t you a little young for this?” or “I bet you guys own a lot of cats, too.” Knitting socks on your subway commute home? Some old man is going to come up to you and explain that “you’ll make an excellent wife some day.” And this one’s my favourite: You’re at the pub telling your friends about the amazing knitwear designer who hangs out at your shop, and when it becomes clear that the designer is male, one acquaintance asks “He’s gay, right?”

    This is exactly what this feels like to me. Without even THINKING about the implications, some hamfisted law clerk saw fit to editorialize in what could have been a fairly reasonable C&D, and as a result delivered a backhanded patriarchal smackdown to a group of already sensitive, frustrated people.

    Every day in my work I try very hard to keep in mind that what we’re doing, in its own way, is part of an ongoing movement to legitimize and bring into the public sphere an art which has traditionally been framed by mainstream culture as “women’s work.” When we continually allow the powers that be (and I’d suggest that large corporate entities, and especially this large corporate entity, is incredibly ensconced within mainstream male dominated corporate culture) to use use this framing to reinforce traditional gender roles we are doing ourselves a great disservice. This is why things like the TTC knitalong and World-wide knit in public day have become so important to knitters here: We’re trying to build legitimacy and community by making public our passions and skills. The Ravelympics and the thus-far unlitigated Knitting Olympics run by the Yarn Harlot have given knitters another way to take pride in their accomplishments and to connect with a community of other people working hard to stretch the limits of their art and ability.

    As for the USOC and its international counterpart. These are far from benign organizations, in my opinion – gender equity has never really been something Olympic organizations have focused on unless forced to do so by external pressures. So it’s troubling to me when a male dominated organization like this one states rather baldly that sport, a concept traditionally “gendered” as male is most definitely superior to activities gendered as female/framed as women’s work.

    As for the apology, well, a bullshit apology is still a bullshit apology no matter whether it comes from a person or a corporation. And while I have always felt that corporations =/= people, if under the US legal system we are obliged to treat them as persons, then yeah, I expect more than a backhanded excuse for an apology.

    If this were my ideal world, we could expect corporations to behave with a little humanity. If the USOC were to pull its head out of its rear orifice for a moment, it might note that the correct action in this case would have been to TURN A BLIND EYE. Because the Ravelympics was something that was actually pretty small in the knitting world – several thousand people but still pretty insignificant. Also, they were raising money for the Special Olympics. In any world it’s a jerk move to shut down an event that raises money for charity, yes? I agree that protecting your brand is important and I’m cool with that. But I also think people should choose their battles carefully. I mean it’s not like these people are counterfeiting tshirts and mugs and selling them at a 400% markup in vast quantities. I should think that would be a bigger issue for their trademark trolling team of rabid lawyers. This is like DC one day up and deciding to sue a 13 year old who decides to sell a drawing of Spiderman to one of his classmates for infringement for commercial purposes (to borrow an example from Cory Doctorow!) It might be within their rights to do so, but what the hell is the point?

    Since it’s not my ideal world, it would be great to see a letter that acknowledged that yeah, they said some pretty horrible things about knitting and women’s work and the whole mess. Because saying “I didn’t mean it that way” is just a way to pass the buck. Just because most people will do absolutely anything to get out of giving a sincere apology doesn’t mean we should just accept that as par for the course. They said those words, and they should OWN UP. Now that the genie’s out of the bottle, so to speak, they probably have to persist about the use of the name just to save face (because machismo and corporate culture just go together, right?), but an honest-to-goodness sincere apology would go a long way to repairing this PR nightmare.

    Instead, we got what we got, and while I understand the need to respond quickly to this kind of criticism in the age of social media, an apology that amounts to “yo guys, i didn’t mean it that way, quit being so sensitive, now can you send me some free stuff?” is worse than no response at all. It would have been nice if they had reached out to people who actually know this community and understand its particular experiences and hang-ups before attempting half-assed damage control.

    Part of my issue here is that we let big corporate citizens get away with stuff like this too often, we’ve basically got a “boys will be boys” attitude about it and that’s super depressing. If we’re willing to accept bad treatment, then that’s what we’re going to get, eh?
    I don’t know what the acceptable solution will be here, but there’s definitely a balance to be struck: protect your brand, but jeez, you don’t have to be a -dick- about it.

    Wow, I totally wrote you a novel! Cheers!

    • Hi Ashely,

      Thanks for your comment! I tend to be lengthy in my writing too. We’ll see how succinct I can keep this [spoiler, it’s really really long, but you brought up a lot of good points and I wanted to respond to them in full]:

      Let’s start off where we agree.

      I agree they should not have editorialized the C & D. Interestingly, I didn’t take this as an issue of gender essentialism — and I tend to make many things an issue of gender essentialism — but I certainly see it as an issue of disrespecting a group of people and their interests.

      I also agree that the disrespect shown to the fiber arts community just goes to show why it’s good that we have a community with which to share ideas, patterns, and find fun ways to knit together. We’re doing something creative that takes skill and practice.

      And now where it seems we disagree:

      At the end of the C & D, Law Clerk Brett Hirsch lets Ravelry know they can contact Carol Gross, his colleague. Who is a woman. Who is behind similar C & Ds to past offenders of defiling the good name of the Olympics like Washington’s Olympic National Park, Northwest Bear’s Club “Olympic Village” (a gay men’s social service camping retreat) and even fact-finding missions against the Amateur Athletic Union’s use of the term “Junior Olympic Games” which they do *with* permission from the USOC. So Carol Gross isn’t a woman just tacked on to the end of a letter. For years she has worked on C & Ds in similar situations. The original insult, from a legal office to the organizers of a website that hosts patterns and an online community, isn’t necessarily manly athletic men telling off women for their womanly-work.

      It’s not that because a woman was involved in the C & D it can’t carry tones of sexism. Because that’s not true. But it’s also not fair to say because men were involved, or because the Olympics are full of athletes who are jocks and manly that it, by extension, *is* sexist. Six out of fifteen of the USOC’s board are women. (…there is one sole woman on the board of the IOC, yikes, but USOC’s the one under the gun here today). And no, just because the USOC has better representation of women than the Canadian government doesn’t mean it can’t also be sexist. What I am saying is the editorializing was an insult against the knitting community, but not automatically a sexist attack. More on this in five paragraphs.

      The assumption that Olympians are thick-headed jocks who pick on nerds is overarching and unfair. Just as unfair as the assumption that knitters are silver-haired old ladies with lots of cats. Especially since law clerks, the people behind the C & D probably aren’t athletes themselves. A quick stalk of Carol Gross’ LinkedIn profile would confirm that in her case anyway.

      I can’t see it as a “bullshit apology.” They were rude, editorializing the C & D, and they apologized for the insult.

      Back to where we (sort of) agree:

      You wrote: “They said some pretty horrible things about knitting and women’s work and the whole mess.” Yes they did.

      I still don’t think it’s an attack on “women’s work” as other groups like national parks and gay men’s service organizations and even other athletic organizations get the same heavy-footed OSOC treatment.

      You wrote: “Because saying “I didn’t mean it that way” is just a way to pass the buck.”
      Agreed – but they went on to apologize.

      They can’t undo what they said. And I agree saying “It was not our intent” doesn’t matter because intent is up to the recipient of the message. But I wonder if the apology had just been “we apologize for the insult” would we have been left wondering “wait… but did you mean to insult us in the first place?” Not sure. But perhaps.

      I ask you, what would be an honest-to-goodness apology, beyond “we apologize for the insult.”?

      And here you paraphrase the apology. And I take issue here. I took issue with Tom paraphrasing my argument above about corporations being bad things, so deal with is, because that’s an inaccurate presentation of my argument, and so he wasn’t actually addressing my argument directly but his own paraphrasing of it.

      You paraphrased their apology as: “yo guys, i didn’t mean it that way, quit being so sensitive, now can you send me some free stuff?”

      “I didn’t mean it that way” — yes that’s a good paraphrase
      “Quit being so sensitive” — in no way was this part of their apology
      “Now can you sent me some free stuff?” — close, but the US Olympic Committee, in all the tweets, posts, and emails, must have seen those announcing they would make items to sent to them as a protest, or to Stephen Colbert in order to garner more media awareness. It’s likely what they meant in this was extending an olive branch to fiber art crafts, offering a way to connect knitters and crocheters to the athletes. Like with their initial C & D, in which they should have left out the editorializing, in their apology it would have been better to leave this out. But it’s not insulting. They didn’t want free stuff, they were hoping to deflect the anger and instead focus on benefitting the athletes. They didn’t want free stuff for themselves. And many had announced their intent to knit because of this already.

      We’re not letting corporations “get away” with anything. They insulted the art of knitting and knitters. We got up in arms. They apologized. They can’t undo what they said, but they apologized for the insult. They should not have editorialized the C & D like they did, because it’s unnecessary and rude, but they apologized.

      And yes, they should pick their battles about copyright. But they don’t have to apologize for picking the battles they did. It doesn’t matter if Ravelry patterns aren’t siphoning money away from Olympic merch sales. I was trying to think of analogy, and this is the best one I could. It’s not perfect. But:

      I’m parking, and I come back to my car four minutes too late to see it getting ticketed. I didn’t even know the time had run out. The parking officer, while giving me my ticket, is extremely rude to me. What can I do? I can insist the officer apologize for being rude to me, but I can’t insist an apology for getting a ticket. Why? Because I broke the law. Was it a silly law, and is four minutes really that big a deal, and could the officer have looked the other way? If the officer had been delayed down the road, my car wouldn’t even have been ticketed and I could have gone on my way without the hurt of being insulted and there would have been no damage done. (This part of the analogy tries to point out how if the USOC hasn’t happened upon Ravelry’s corner of the internet, as it has yet to for countless other “-lympics” none of this would have happened). So I can be upset that I was insulted, and demand an apology, and deserve an apology. So I get one. Yay! But I can’t demand an apology for being ticketed because I was in the wrong, no matter how silly the wrong is. I got ticketed, and people who were one minute late or an hour late back to their car got ticketed. Because you have to pay to park. And if parking officers don’t out tickets, what’s the incentive for anyone to pay for parking? There goes a chunk of the city’s income.

      The analogy isn’t perfect, but it’s actually not that bad in my opinion. If “we apologize for any insult” is not apology enough for the insult, I’m curious as to what would be.

      But they were in their right to send the C & D, and Ravelry, as a US-based organization, should submit to it. Pay the parking ticket, and gripe that it sucks and it doesn’t matter and what’s four minutes late anyway. But they don’t have to apologize or retract the parking ticket, just apologize for being a dick about it.

      Which is in so many words why I believe the USOC’s apology for the insult “we apologize for the insult” is an appropriate response, and should be accepted as such.

      …but wait!

      You definitely have a right to be angry, and continue to be angry. As do all the knitters and individuals for whom the USOC’s apology is insufficient.

      Thanks again for the comment, and congratulations if you made it through my extraordinarily long response.

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