Open Letter to the US Olympic Committee 91


If you’re part of the yarn world, you have most likely heard about the US Olympic Committee’s contact with the Knitting and Crochet On-Line Community, Ravelry.com, regarding the activity known as  the “Ravelympics.”   If you have not been apprised of the situation you can read about it further on Ravelry.com.

Before I get to my open letter to the USOC, let me say this, I have no vested interest in Ravelry.com, I started a message board there almost five years ago, and did indeed participate in the first set of games mostly likely to be formerly known as Ravelympics.  I have been a member of Ravelry since 2007 when there were a mere 10,000 crochet lovers and our sister knitters as members. I can say that Casey and Jess have always operated in good conscience and have offered those of us who use yarn a place to call home, create lasting relationships, learn, share and grow.

Dear Mr. Hirsch,

Whereas, I cannot fault the USOC’s concern for the protection of their trademarks and intellectual property, I can find much fault with the derisive and patronizing tone of your letter.

Your attitude toward traditional feminine handicrafts is sadly all too common in a culture that regards that which is traditionally feminine to be of less value (handicrafts) than that of traditionally male pursuits (sports).  Yes, I am quite aware that females participate in sporting events, just as you are perhaps (or not) aware that many men consider fiber arts and traditional handicrafts a valuable and rewarding past time.

First of all, I am quite sure most Ravelry.com users are quite aware of the time, dedication and effort applied by the athletes that represent their nations. I would like to point out that the users of Ravelry.com are not merely US citizens, but rather Ravelry.com is a global community.  Many Ravelry.com users particpating in the on-line games are proudly representing their nations and not the USA.  Never once have I seen anyone on Ravelry claim to be making a mockery of the Olympics or the spirit for which is is renown.   However, there are many Ravelry.com users, who do not care for sporting events and last I checked there is no law that requires US citizens to display their patriotism by supporting US teams and individuals participating in competitive sports.

I will quote your letter,

The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.

I was unaware that the Olympic Games had cornered the market on those ideals. In fact,  traditional feminine handicrafts are an intrinsic,and often over looked, aspect of almost every culture on Earth. Though to the host nation of the Summer 2012 Olympic’s credit they saw fit to commission a CROCHET ARTIST, Shauna Richardson,  to crochet (yes, crochet with yarn even, and no it is not a form of knitting, it is a handicraft in its own right, the one most commonly used to create afghans) 30 foot lions.  Is that making a mockery out of the Olympics? Or is that a cultural display? It appears in the United Kingdom, perhaps a more erudite and refined nation, the spirit of creativity is as valued as the pursuit of competitive sport.

Furthermore, though the Olympics were originally created to foster those ideals, over the past 40 years the games have been extremely politicized, many host cities saddled with crippling debt just for the privilege of having played host, and many millions of dollars have exchanged hands on a global level to “sponsor” these “not-for-profit” games. No blame on the athletes, they are doing what they love, they ARE dedicated and they are proudly representing their nations. As a specialist in International Relations, however, I do often wonder if that kind of sponsorship money might go further to promote safe drinking water, better hygiene, education and healthcare in some of the participating nations who have extreme poverty. Not a USOC concern of course, but I am ripping off the rose colored glasses here.

While I’m removing some Rosy lenses, let me point out to my readership that just because you are a not-for-profit organization in the United States of America it does not mean that you do not raise many millions of dollars and that a good portion of those go to well paid executive staff and of course law offices. Even in a tight economy, I am sure you are one “charity” many corporations don’t mind donating to because of the MASSIVE marketing exposure they receive by supporting the Olympics, perhaps some of which is driven by patriotism and a love of sport, but more likely the decision is one made by the bottom line.

I will quote you again,

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.

Sir, I am offended by this complete disregard for the amount of talent, skill, and dedication required for accomplished and often well noted fiber artisans to complete large and detailed works of fiber art in a very short amount of time. The reason one would compare the creation of a sweater (crochet or knit)  to the Triathlon is because a sweater is a complex piece of construction that requires a great deal of complex mathematical calculations that you have to replicate upon hook or needles with many variables coming into play. It is part math, part art, and part engineering to make a sweater in any amount of time, two weeks? To create a sweater in two weeks requires an amazing amount of technical skill and training.

Also, An afghan is often a large crocheted (or knit) blanket, I would dare to see a beginning fiber artist attempt to make a full sized afghan in a two week period. Many hand workers were taught and trained in childhood and have been developing their skills and techniques over a life time. You have inferred that we are disrespecting the athletes and fail to recognize their hard work, well you sir, fail to understand how you have insulted more than 17.4 million US households that crochet, not to mention the millions of knitters, hand spinners, weavers and other fiber artists that are striving to keep dying arts alive in their communities.

Again, I understand your opposition based on the grounds of trademarks and intellectual property ownership, my objection lays in the ignorant, condescending  and insensitive attitude displayed in the letter to Mr. Forbes (Casey) towards what is most often considered traditional feminine handicrafts.  Not only do we who create with yarn and other fibers keep traditional arts and crafts alive in our country, thereby preserving our cultural heritage, we create lasting items that can be used to warm the homeless, clothe the poor, bring joy to traumatized children and support the courageous and intrepid athletes of the Special Olympics.

I suggest the USOC retract those comments and apologize for speaking as if we who do handicrafts are young children who must have our manners corrected.

With kind regards,

Laurie A. Wheeler

PS. I am not into sports (well, except for curling, cause damn it curling is awesome), never have been, I’m a nerd and I’ve been having these kinds of arguments with jocks for more than 30 years. I can appreciate their dedication and training, but it is not the end all be all, perhaps some quid pro quo in the respect department is required.

 


About Laurie A. Wheeler

Laurie A. Wheeler is a blogger, crochet addict, yarn designer and champion for independant artisans and crafters. She is also known as Fearless Leader of the Crochet Liberation Front.


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91 thoughts on “Open Letter to the US Olympic Committee

  • Ann M Dick

    Great job with the letter. You have been able to capture the thoughts in writing that many others just keep to themselves.

  • Netta

    100% YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is EXACTLY EVERYTHING I have felt and wanted to express from the moment this came up! THANK YOU for stating it so concisely and eloquently!!!!

  • M

    This is not only well written but spot on. As one who does not participate in either the Olympics or Ravelympics, I find this issue to be mind blowing. After reading the goals and events that Ravelry, it is clear that there is no competition to the Olympic games!! The USOC is being a bully and it is really very sad. I am all for boycotting the Olympics games!

  • Alacaeriel

    In spite of not being a crocheter, nor American, I appreciate this letter! I’m a knitter, and Australian. The fact that they are trying to stop the use of Ravelympics as a name is offensive. It is denigrating to the crafts.

    • Judith Manriquez

      I appreciate this letter and the sentiments.

      And while we seem to believe they NEED to protect their intellectual property – they could have found more respectful ways of doing so. And one that is more about building community.

      The training, learning, dedication, skill and work to produce handcrafts is exceptional and invite any Olympic exec to have a go at it – perhaps at their next board meeting some of the Ravelry artisans could teach a class?

      For me the Olympics stand for personal excellence – in the physical, mental and spiritual realms.

      They could just as easily have looked to Ravelry and noted it is about personal excellence and written a press release showcasing Olympic athletes and the mighty inspiration they have in all aspects of life with a cute side note to the Ravelry competition.

      Much more inclusive and uplifting way of strengthening their brand and building community. IMHO.

  • Karen

    Laurie –

    Your letter was just featured on Zite – a popular app used by iPad users like me. Bravo!! It’s very well-written and a perfect counter-point to the USOC letter disrespecting those many millions of us who get pleasure, add value and do good in the world using yarn and creativity – instead of our muscles.

    I still can’t believe that the USOC sent a letter from a summer law clerk that “denigrates” knitters, crocheters and others who embrace fiber arts and crafts that are probably almost as ancient as the Olympic games themselves.

    Seems to me that this situation was the perfect opportunity for the USOC to create a win-win solution – like making Ravelry an official sponsor who could use the Olympic copyright like the other sponsors. While Ravelry probably can’t bring many thousands of sponsorship dollars to the table, it sure can bring many thousands, even millions of viewers to the Olympics.

    Too bad the USOC chose to take the low road instead.

  • Karlie

    Your response was one of the most calm and well written responses I’ve seen so far and reflects my views on the issue almost exactly.

    At first it seemed as if everyone was over reacting and it was hard to figure out what the true uproar was all about since it was just a lot of screaming and angry words. So, thank you for bringing some calm and appropriate commentary to the issue.

    • GypsyDancer

      Here Here! (or Hear Hear, I’m never sure which!)

      A rational and clear response to something that came across as bigotry and commercialism at it’s worst. As usual, you have done a brilliant job Laurie :)

      Also, it’s nice to have had the lions pointed out since they are truly amazing and an excellent example of the skill and talent involved in these wonderful fibre crafts that the USOC saw fit to trivialise.

  • Leslie

    Thank you for putting this so well. I am too mad to do anything but sputter and restrain myself from using the term “MFkers” but that would be denigrating to their mothers who may have crochet or knit baby clothes for these people.

    BTW –I actually completed my first crochet project EVER (two potholders) which isn’t bad for a person who has only chained and crocheted parts of sweaters together. Crochet uses more yarn but it’s interesting – I’m planning to learn more.

  • Leslee

    Bravo…bravo…bravo! Thoughtfully and well said! I won’t stop crocheting/knitting, but I will be boycotting the Olympics to be sure!

  • guinevere

    Brava! Well said.

    Participating in past Ravelympics made me more invested in watching the Games than I have ever been, and it’s just sad not only that the intern who wrote this letter had to do so in an insulting, condescending manner, but also cannot seem to see that we are supporting and honoring the Games (and hence the athletes) by joining with other fiber artists around the world to challenge ourselves to do our very best work, test our skill, and improve our abilities. It’s not a competition, it is pushing ourselves to our limits and cheering each other on.
    How exactly this denigrates the athletes is beyond me. How it detracts from the ‘Olympic’ brand I’ll never understand.

  • Marie/Underground Crafter

    I don’t have a problem with the USOC protecting their rights, but I was shocked by the tone, which was entirely unnecessary. Your letter really summarizes what I was thinking, but is far more articulate than anything I could have written in the heat of the moment. Thanks for sharing this, Laurie.

  • polyorchnid octopunch

    Well, all I’m going to say is that given the nearly fascist behaviour used by the IOC and it’s various national subsidiaries, I’m going into my third or fourth olympiad studiously ignoring the whole damn thing. As far as I’m concerned, the Olympics are a playground for the idle rich, and embody a lot of what’s gone wrong in the West since Reagan. If they disappeared, I wouldn’t shed a tear, because the original ideal of amateur athletics disappeared a long long time ago. The only thing the Olympics accomplishes now is costing the host communities dearly (and esp. the poor among the host communities) while letting a lot of smug self-righteous entitlement trust-fund babies a chance to congratulate themselves in public once again. I’m a Canadian… and yeah, I’m looking at you, Dick Pound.

    • Anick

      I hear you. Montreal JUST finished paying it’s stadium. And it’s falling apart. Not to mention all the lobbying, the stealing and the cheating that happened back then when it was being built..

  • Judy

    Bravo, Laurie, for an extremely well-written letter!!! I can certainly understand the USOC wanting to protect its copyrights and trademarks and respect their rights; however, the attitude expressed in the letter was a definite put-down to the crochet/knit community across the nation and around the world. Thank you for responding to them…..I hope someone at the USOC gets the message! I would just bet that a LOT of those athletes have family members who crochet or knit, too.

  • Kam

    Such a well woded, logical, and educated response deserves a standing ovation… But I can’t get up without dumping my knitting, so know that I am cheering for your response!

  • Mayra

    Great job! Can we all sign our names as “Another Offended Crafter”? I think their heads would blow up if they knew how many of us are out there!

  • moleymakes

    Well said Laurie. Their half-hearted apology also seems to be a “standard letter reply”. Let’s ope somebody with a bit more clout and savvy will send a proper apology, retracting their denigrating claims.

  • susanna

    Great letter! One point I don’t think I saw in your letter is that really, Ravelympics is PROMOTING watching and engaging with the Olympics. The idea is to do your crafts … while watching the Olympics! Thus, to some of your points, gaining traction for the athletes, as well as their supporters (and advertisers, and funders).

    I get it about their “property,” I guess, but weren’t the Olympics originally from ancient Greece … not the property of one organization? Sigh.

    • Laurie A. Wheeler Post author

      I didn’t put that in the letter because in fact that is something I have fought to protect our crochet professionals from. We call it “Death by Exposure”. Large companies will take your work and use it without credit but then claim they were giving you exposure.

      What I feel and will write about next is the lost opportunity the USOC created. They could have easily partnered with the Fiber Arts community in a way that benefited everyone. I think there are some really important lessons to be had from this experience.

      • Wanda Hickman

        Laurie, Thanks for this great letter. I am a knitter and my mom was a crocheter. I have also been an avid quilter and participated in the huge quilt project in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics. Over 150 quilters designed and made enough quilts to gift each country with two of them as our Nation’s host city gift. I made two of those quilts. The logo for that Olympics in Atlanta that year was designed by a quilter and a quilt made of the design to present to one of the top officials of the Olympics. HOW SOON THEY FORGET! As we presented the quilts we made to the representatives of each country, the response gave me goose bumps. They were blown away by our generosity, our skills, our artistic prowess. The athletes got it! Thanks for the opportunity to share this story of a time in which our work was appreciated.

  • Amber

    Love (2,000,000)! Thank you for so eloquently stating what many of us thought after reading the USOC letter. (and as a fellow curler…curling ROCKS the house!).

  • Darla Johnson

    Great Letter Laurie! I myself was so angry when I read of this outrage this morning, I could not put together an intelligent response. And the USOC seems to have “apologized” and then edited their “apology”. Sorry, I already read the first version, can’t take it back! Added injury to insult, they did!

  • Julia - Aberrant Crochet

    OK, so I flung my response out there into the blogosphere as well, making a point to help represent crocheters in this. But I think it’s double awesome Laurie that your post got picked up nationally like that. Crochet – represent!

    My main thing now is I do plan to crochet something to mail to the USOC. Just like broccoli sent to the White House. They’ve disparaged hand-makers, not just with this letter, but through former stunts as well. So I personally feel like making a statement in a more direct way. I was trying to decide between shipping them a granny square or a crochet bacon strip. I was leaning bacon, just ‘cuz. Anyone else?

    • Laurie A. Wheeler Post author

      Thanks Noreen. Maybe people are ready to hear it? If we are not rude to one another and seek opportunity to work in concert it is far more productive than when we don’t? I don’t know, I’ve been preaching it for a long time, I wonder if it will catch on? :D

  • Laurie A. Wheeler Post author

    wow, Thank you for all of your thoughtful comments. I will say this, I do fully support the USOC’s right to their intellectual property. I think they were slow to apologize and that it was a reluctant apology, I think that is a matter of bad PR versus malice.

    I have a few follow up blog posts to come, one being why I don’t support the idea that we are promoting them. I’ve heard that argument used to designers all too often as an excuse in taking our work. I do believe that there was a missed opportunity for the fostering of community and partnership.

  • Janet

    What next??? Will they be telling the Special Olympics they can’t use the name either??? And crocheters and knitters have actively supported those games as well. Too bad it’s the Summer games coming up… for Winter I wonder how many Olympic athletes would wear “handcrafted” scarves as a show of support. Surely one or two of them crochet or knit themselves!

  • Kat

    You’re awesome! I can’t believe that this is even an issue. What a jerk. You certainly put him in his place. I can’t believe he thinks they cornered the market on olympics. What a snob.

  • Tally Calvert

    Hear! Hear!
    I learned to knit as a child when my plane was delayed, the next year the same Aunt taught me to crochet while yet another plane was delayed. I have enjoyed both pursuits since childhood. I am a nurse and worked with burned children. I taught countless kids to knit and crochet, distracting them from the pain, providing them with exercises for their stiff and sore hands and fingers that they didn’t mind doing and provided them with a lifelong craft. I will never forget the look of total excitement on a child who spoke no english-I speak no spanish, who along with her sister suffered horrendous burns in their small village in central Mexico, when she knitted her very first rows. She showed that small knitted strip to every single staff member, every visitor and slept with the knitting clutched in her hands.

    BOO to you Mr. Hirsch. Your grandmother would be ashamed of you.

  • Brad

    As the husband of a LYS owner, I must say I was shocked at the tone of their original cease and desist letter as well. As someone who has made a living creating “intellectual property” (first in computer software, now in photography), I understand the need to protect your brands, trademarks, and copyrights… if you don’t do it every time, a judge can later decide you don’t really need it when it does matter, either. But as you say, the *tone* was unnecessary.

    One thing to look into as you write follow ups – my wife tells me there are a number of actual Olympic athletes that are not only members of Ravelry, but have participated in the Ravelympics in the past….. might be interesting to see if any of them would like to go on record with the USOC about how they, too, were offended.

  • StormyHeather

    Excellent letter! Would you consider letting me post this in it’s entirety on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/StormyHeatherCreations) and/or my blog (www.StormyHeather.com)? Some of my crochet/knit/fiber-y friends would love this! (I would of course credit it to you/your website, etc. in whatever manner you wish.)

    Thanks for your consideration!
    ~Heather

  • Guadalupe Zarate

    I was shocked to hear that USOC would send such a letter to the fiber arts community. But I loved the response. KUDOS! The USOC need to go on record by apologizing on national news to representatives of the fiber arts community there in person. I myself am a crocheter, knitter, seamstress, etc. and felt insulted.

  • nfitz

    I received a request from the USOC to donate money for the Olympic games earlier today. Instead of sending a donation in the return envelope, I sent a polite letter stating that I will always be willing to support athletes directly, but I will never again donate anything to the USOC nor will I go out of my way to buy products from companies who donate proceeds to them. The need to protect the copyright (and anticipated donations) is not an acceptable reason or excuse for writing, approving and sending such an unprofessional and insulting letter. The person who wrote it, low level or not, cannot be a scape goat for the organization. This person was writing as a representative of the whole committee and I doubt the letter could have been published if the “higher ups” had not read and approved its contents. In the grand scheme of things, they probably won’t notice my lack of contributions, but I do hope it gets someone to remember they are supposed to represent the best of the USA just as much as the athletes do and act accordingly.

  • Julia

    I find it very funny that the military encourages crafters to be patriotic and ‘knit for the troops’ and yet the Olympics see it as an insult. During the first and second world wars, it was an expectation that you would not be idle when you could be knitting a hat or socks or some other item that would be appreciated by the soldiers. I really thought the Olympics was about showing your pride in your country by supporting its representatives – its athletes.
    Very sad and I am really proud to be Canadian right now…….