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Oh, the drama of it all

Thursday, 21 June, 2012

The knitting world collectively raised their pointy sticks in anger over the letter Casey, the co-founder of Ravelry, posted yesterday. For those of you without a Ravelry account here is an article about what happened.

I understand where the USOC is coming from, and I don’t have a problem with the cease and desist portion of the letter. As with any corporation, they have to protect their brand for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here because it’s far too boring, and they have a right to do so under U.S. law. I’m fairly certain the only reason this didn’t already happened is that Ravelry was much smaller two years ago and was able to fly under the radar. Changing the name of the Ravelympics is not a big deal.

What I take from this situation is a lesson on the importance of language. Words carry weight. I’m aware of it every time I write a blog post – once you put something out onto the internet it’s extremely difficult to take it back, to erase it permanently. In my case, I call my husband The Scientist because he has a professional life I don’t want blurring with my personal blog (this was my own decision, not something he asked me to do). You know Charlie’s name, and you get a few small details about him but you’ll likely never know much more because even at 6 he has a right to privacy.

The young man who wrote the letter – and he is young, not even out of law school – is likely learning a painful lesson about the power of words this week.  This situation would have brought out annoyance no matter how it was worded, but it wouldn’t have turned into this thing save for two sentences: “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.”

Denigrate and disrespectful.

I was never going to participate in the Ravelympics this year. The project I’m working on doesn’t translate into one of the Ravelympics events. And I’m still not going to participate. We rarely watch TV in our house – since football season ended in January I think it’s come on three times (excluding when we watch movies) – but I was really excited to turn it on for the Opening Ceremonies and the hours and hours of the games I would be watching afterwards, knitting the entire time. Will I still watch? I don’t know. I guess? This situation has ruined a lot of the excitement for me. A poor choice of words has led to thousands of enthusiastic fans feeling alienated and insulted.

For the rest of my life when someone brings up the Olympics I’m going to think back to this situation, and hopefully to the lesson it should teach us all: words matter. Don’t create unnecessary damage by choosing the wrong language.

Update: the USOC has issued a statement on the situation.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, 21 June, 2012 10:52 am

    I hadn’t seen the letter till just now… I agree with your thoughts on privacy. when writing my blog I rarely refer to my friends or family by their names…I use my nicknames for them or family nicknames.
    thanks for posting this, I was looking forward to the scarf hockey…
    Carmel 🙂

  2. Thursday, 21 June, 2012 11:04 am

    It’s just maddening! While I agree with you that Brett Hirsch’s phrasing was unwise and condescending, I am pretty peeved by the cease-and-desist part of the letter, too. As a classics scholar, I’m horrified by how the USOC tries to protect a “brand” invented by the Greeks in 776 B.C.E. (the bit about 4-year intervals is especially addlepated — hence the Greek Olympiad).

    All in the name of profits, of course, while “amateurs” compete. The USOC makes a profit, but only a few of those hard-working athletes do, mainly those who gain corporate deals.

  3. Thursday, 21 June, 2012 11:40 am

    I completely agree. When I saw letter yesterday, I was not offended by the ceasing and desisting (I’ve read a few of those in my time as an artist), but at the condescension! I was also not planning to participate this year, but it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

  4. Mom permalink
    Thursday, 21 June, 2012 12:08 pm

    I think the title of your post says it all. Really!!!??? I hate stuff like this as it was a positive thing for a lot of people that got excited about knitting while watching the Olympics and those amazing athletes. Not to mention a lot of these knitters are very amazing too! Grrr…

  5. liz permalink
    Thursday, 21 June, 2012 1:54 pm

    Excellent post, Kate. I was pretty stunned by the word denigrate in particular but disrespectful is no better. Words have power and we do need to mind how we use them.

  6. Thursday, 21 June, 2012 6:21 pm

    The condescending attitude of both the cease-and-desist letter writer and the Gawker article’s author were really maddening. I noticed a few years ago that knitting is used as a punchline a lot in popular media, as if the only way a person would ever want to knit is if they were depressed, lonely, or old – or all three. Grey’s Anatomy. Commercials. Offhand comments on sitcoms. These insults are everywhere, and they also seem to be particularly aimed at women. That cultural context gives the whole Olympics debacle an even worse stench of misogyny to me. It’s fine for the USOC to exercise their legal rights, but as you said, their choice of wording was extremely poor, and that choice sent a very clear message of both arrogance and insensitivity.

  7. Thursday, 21 June, 2012 7:41 pm

    Does this now mean if someone asks me to ‘pitch’ in and help that the baseball commissioner will be on my doorstep.

  8. Tuesday, 26 June, 2012 5:33 pm

    Yes, they can protect their special word. No, they shouldn’t use words like denigrate and disrepect. That paragraph wasn’t part of a standard C&D letter. And no, I can’t imagine why they’d ask people they insulted to donate hand knits!

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