Save The Pentathlete
The harsh reality is that aside from a few sports that sufficiently interest viewers so that sponsors are willing to put up big money to get their name plastered somewhere on the participants bodies, most Olympic sports are, in the truest sense, amateur, meaning that there isn't a buck to be made anywhere for playing. To the players, it's love of the sport, with maybe a bit of a quest for glory.
It doesn't start when they announce the next quadrennial location, but many years earlier as young men and women decide to dedicate themselves to achieve competence, and later excellence. There are costs associated throughout, but the families carry them as there is no other way to do it. From equipment, to training, to the car rides and missed dinners, it's a commitment. To do something well enough to make an Olympic team is an accomplishment far beyond most of our wildest imagination.
Shockingly, this doesn't turn into magnificent glory. Name the guy who took the silver in luge? Too tough? Fair enough, what about the the gal who won biathlon in Albertville in '92? No? And to add insult to injury, there were no million dollar endorsement deals coming her way either.
It's fair to question whether any of this matters. After all, if you're not interested in a sport, who cares if it exists? But if you don't begrudge a sport being in the Olympics even if it's not of interest to you, then it follows that you wouldn't begrudge the United States Olympic Committee doing what it must to raise the funds to maintain amateur sports that do not raise sufficient revenue to sustain itself for the Olympics.
Unless you happen to give a damn about one of these sports, it's likely that you haven't given much thought to the fact that the USOC has been fighting a battle to finance non-revenue producing Olympic sports by, among other things, selling its only quantifiable asset, it's brand, to corporate sponsors. Without this, the US Olympic team would be comprised of a handful of common spectator sports and little else. It costs money to field an Olympic team. A lot of money. Did you realize this? Do you care?
In an effort to protect its brand against poachers, the USOC has taken an aggressive stance toward others using either any of its Olympic trademarks. Not surprisingly, this has made some enemies with otherwise nice folks who meant no harm. The latest involved going to war with knitters.
Via Ken at Popehat:
They told me about a cease-and-desist letter the USOC sent to Ravelry, a site for knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. The USOC confronted Ravelry over a planned event called the Ravelympics, a communal knitting competition and event scheduled to coincide with the London Summer Olympics.
The issue was not merely that the USOC was demanding that Ravelry cease and desist using the term 'Ravelympics" and remove the Olympic five-ringed symbol from all projects. The issue was that the USOC (which in its wisdom had tasked a law clerk to write a threatening letter to an organization with two million members) displayed such Olympian hubris about the whole thing:
The athletes of Team USA have usually spent the better part of their entire lives training for the opportunity to compete at the Olympic Games and represent their country in a sport that means everything to them. For many, the Olympics represent the pinnacle of their sporting career. Over more than a century, the Olympic Games have brought athletes 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 athletes. The Olympic Games represent ideals that go beyond sport to encompass culture and education, tolerance and respect, world peace and harmony.
The USOC is responsible for preserving the Olympic Movement and its ideals within the United States. Part of that responsibility is to ensure that Olympic trademarks, imagery and terminology are protected and given the appropriate respect. 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.
Now, I don't know whether the USOC's law clerk came up with that language himself, or whether the USOC's word processor has a macro entitled DOUCHIFY. But that's some seriously DSM-IV-level narcissism there, not to mention catastrophic lack of social skills. I can't blame the law clerk — it's the USOC's fault for failure to supervise him. Law clerks don't have the sense God gave a handful of gravel. Adults are supposed to take them by the hand and make sure they doesn't send letters like that. Protip, USOC: if your cease-and-desist-letter methodology resembles that of Girls Gone Wild jailbird Joe Francis, you may want to rethink it.
The language of this letter is atrocious. There is absolutely no reason nor justification to demean knitting by writing it "denigrates" the Olympics. As much as some people care about amateur sports, people care about knitting. And they are just as entitled to be treated respectfully. Ken is absolutely right to call it narcissistic, just as he's right to note that it's not some kid-intern's fault for cranking out a form letter, but the responsibility of grown-ups at the USOC to make sure it's touch is appropriate and respectful, just as it hopes its sports and athletes are treated by others.
But the post doesn't stop at criticizing the USOC for its terribly poor choice of language, or even its arrogance. Rather, the attack goes to the heart of the USOCs efforts to raise money through the sale of its brand, as if this was part of a cabal of greed, sucking money from corporate sponsors so fat men could eat bon bons while runners sweat. Not surprisingly, the comments generated from this post include some of the typical mindless vitriol of the regulars, coupled with knitters attacking athletics with the same disdain that the USOC showed Ravelry.
Most knitters who came to let Ken know how much they adored him for being their hero were far more thoughtful, noting their offense at the language, while recognizing that the USOCs intentions weren't evil.
This efforts follows on the heels of a series of posts, ranging from the support of Aaron Walker, the Oatmeal to Regretsy. I've been pretty effusive in praising Ken's steadfast support of free speech, even in the face of some daunting foes. But even so, a concern existed that the both the credibility Ken built, as well as the appreciation, even adoration, of those who enjoyed his free legal support, can become too powerful a club. Handling such adoration with circumspection is a difficult thing.
Sometimes, there is a clear demarcation of good and bad, right and wrong. Sometimes, it's a matter of gradation, and we need to limit our focus, and control those inclined toward scorched earth from overstepping the wrong and wiping out everything in sight. Fostering mindless anger and hatred isn't a solution.
The grace and propriety of most of the knitters was exceptionally impressive. Their tone toward the USOC was, frankly, better than the USOC deserved, given it's heavy-handed and offensive attack on the knitters.
Though not a knitter, I can well appreciate their love of knitting (and crocheting) and the utter reasonableness of their expectation of being treated with respect. Maybe the nice folks in the house next door to me knit, and there isn't a reason in the world to suggest that their choice of activity isn't artistic and worthy of appreciation. Then again, maybe the people down the block are athletes with Olympic aspirations, and the attacks on the USOC could cost them the funding to go to London this summer.
Neither knitters nor athletes deserve to be attacked. When wielding the club, we need to give a great deal of thought as to who gets hit. And we similarly need to be vigilant to use the power with care and circumspection. Defending the knitters from attack is a fine cause. But must it come at the expense of the pentathletes? Who will save them?