This story has been updated.
Millions of knitting enthusiasts are furious at the U.S. Olympic Committee over a cease and desist letter, and the organization’s two
attempts at an apology have only worsened the situation.
Here’s the play by play (with the apologies that angered so many knitters):
, a social network of knitting enthusiasts, planned to hold its “Ravelympics” this summer—with competitions such as an “afghan marathon”—to coincide with the London games.
The USOC noticed and sent the group a cease and desist letter, because the term “Olympics” and anything resembling are protected by a copyright. Knitting blogs
, as well as Gawker
, posted the USOC’s letter in full. Here’s an excerpt:
“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.”
The knitters didn’t appreciate the tone of the letter, so these savvy social networkers took to Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs in protest. The USOC’s public relations team stepped in to squelch the simmering problem before it boiled over. Patrick Sandusky, the USOC chief communications and public affairs officer, issued this statement on Thursday
“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.”
The statement stoked the fire. Commenters flooded the USOC website:
“Thanks for the half-hearted attempt at a maybe apology that keeps you clear of any blame,” one commenter said. “Now, you want us to give you free stuff?”
Another asked: “You tell all recipients of your standard cease and desist letter that what they're doing is denigrating and disrespectful to Olympic athletes?”
And another said: “First we're denigrating, now we're stupid. We are supposed to believe a C&D form letter includes that kind of language?”
There are hundreds more comments echoing these sentiments.
Sandusky issued a second
statement to clarify his botched apology:
“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.”
The uproar and failed attempts to say sorry bubbled up to the mainstream press. A number of media outlets are covering it, including Gawker
, Yahoo Sports
, and more. This situation, it seems, is an example of the “Streisand Effect
Sandusky spoke with The New York Times
, which said the USOC communications chief was "taken aback by the wave of opposition to the letter." The organization reportedly sends hundreds of these letters to groups that infringe on the USOC's trademark. The logo and brand are so valuable, Sandusky told the Times
, because the USOC doesn't receive money from the government and instead relies on money from donors. Sandusky also said his wife and mother-in-law are avid knitters.
A reporter for the ABC affiliate in Chicago complimented Sandusky's handling of the incident on the Twitter. (Through is personal Twitter account
, Sandusky responded directly to people about the knitting uproar.) ABC 7's Ben Bradley tweeted: