Olympics Committee Responds to Knitters

FlyingFingers_KnittingNeedles_13The U.S. Olympics Committee managed to anger an unlikely group-knitters. To protect the "Olympics" trademark, the group sends hundreds of cease-and-desist letters when it believes the name has been misused. In this case, a group of knitters promoted a "Ravelympics" competition: While watching the Olympics, knitters participate in events such as "afghan marathon" and "scarf hockey."

Knitters were offended by the language in the cease-and-desist letter, which included the following:

"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 outcry from the knitting community was extraordinary, as one blogger wrote: "2 Million Knitters with Pointy Sticks are Angry at the US Olympic Committee."

USOC apologized, but botched the message. Here's an excerpt: 

"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."

One person responded: "Thanks for the half-hearted attempt at a maybe apology that keeps you clear of any blame. Now, you want us to give you free stuff?"

In an interview with PR Daily, Patrick Sandusky, spokesperson for the USOC, admitted, "The letter itself that was sent to this group was definitely too strident in its tone." He also said, "We do believe they're in violation of the law Congress passed and how we'll protect our trademark, but we could have gone about it in a slightly more sensitive way."

To address the criticism, Sandusky used his personal Twitter account. He explains this decision:

"I'm a firm believer that people don't believe organizations as much as they believe individuals. And if somebody's going to put their name on it and be a voice of reason specifically as a person who works at an organization and not just hide behind a blanket generic Twitter account-which has its uses without a doubt. And we have far more people that follow that than follow me. But it was something to supplement the main Twitter feed and show that this wasn't just a generic corporate account speaking corporate speak but it was an actual person willing to answer questions. And I answered more than, I think, 500 people online who contacted me directly with their questions. All those answers aren't going to be sufficient for some people but at least they're getting a response and not just being pointed to a generic statement. We believe here that we're the people that are responsible for the organization and I don't have any problem putting my name on organizational decisions and responding directly."

Image source

Discussion Starters and Assignment Ideas:

  • Read the cease-and-desist letter. Rewrite it to improve the style and tone.
  • How do you assess the USOC's apology? Could the group have done a better job? Rewrite the statement to improve the message.