Portland Thorns: Creative Advertising?

The Portland Thorns are attempting to go where two other women's professional teams in the city have failed to go before: financial sustainability. The team is off to a good start, selling 6,500 season tickets – [b]ut profitability is hardly assured, Thorns officials say. So that may help explain their swift reaction Friday, removing a hot-selling T-shirt from the team's store and website in response to criticism that the saying — "Feelin' Thorny?" — is offensive. Their action came about 24 hours after the first complaint was posted on Facebook…. "A great majority of fans find it funny and in the spirit it was created," as a "funny, playful twist on our name," said Mike Golub, chief operating officer of the Portland Timbers, who is serving in the same role with the Thorns…. Half of the Thorns merchandise sales Thursday at the Adidas Timbers Team Store in Jeld-Wen Field were of the T-shirt, though he declined to provide numbers. However, "There is a group of people who don't like it," and team officials decided to respect those sentiments and stop sales of the T-shirts, he said.

In respecting the sentiments of a humorless minority, team officials have disrespected the majority of fans who found “Feelin’ Thorny?” to be clever and original. It’s the worst sort of political correctness- caving to a vocal minority because you don’t want to cause offense. Except that in appeasing the minority, you manage to piss off the majority of your fan base.

Welcome to Portland: Where the uptight, humorless, and self-righteous too often carry the day.

I know; Berkeley-on-the-Willamette has a well-deserved reputation for taking political correctness to ever greater and more ridiculous lengths- but this is just plain silly. I could sum this fiasco up in one sentence: “It’s a freakin’ t-shirt, people!”

Methinks perhaps a few Portlanders could benefit by lightening up just a wee bit, no? If the t-shirt’ message was something genuinely offensive, this “controversy” might make sense. Yes, it’s a double entendre, but it’s two words…and “Feelin’ Thorny?” is the brainchild of a female Thorns employee.

Like many of Portland’s soccer fans, I was stunned by Golub's cowardly, ill-considered decision. He caved to a narrow-minded minority of uptight, humorless, self-righteous types unable to see the cleverness in the "Feelin' Thorny?" t-shirts. Judging by the comments on the Thorns' Facebook page, I'm not the only one nonplussed by Golub's first Thorns-related PR fiasco.

Let me see if I have this straight. A Thorns employee comes up with a slogan clever enough to sell a lot of t-shirts and generate some much-needed attention (and income) for Portland's newest professional sports franchise. The t-shirts sell remarkably well- they were half of the Thorns merchandise sold at the team store. A small number of people post complaints about the t-shirts on the Thorns' Facebook page. Before anyone can even invoke Godwin’s Law, Golub is scrambling to appease the humorless, uptight, self-righteous folks who chose to look past the intent and take offense. Really? A narrow-minded minority’s tender sensibilities are invested with greater value and weight than the majority, many of whom would happily buy the t-shirt?

Way to show some courage, eh, Mike? A small minority makes a fuss, and suddenly you can’t do anything that ANYONE might interpret negatively? That the shirt's slogan was both clever AND popular seems to make little difference. "Oh, heavens no; we don't want to offend people." Right; evidently you want to be so thoroughly vanilla and noncontroversial that no one could possibly take offense.

What’s next? Playing 90 minutes of soccer without keeping score because the losing team’s feelings might be hurt?

The Facebook comments against the "Feelin' Thorny?" shirt run the gamut from the just plain silly and barely coherent:

Regarding the "Feelin' Thorny" shirt: Merritt Paulson's tweeted, pathetic, joking, condescending, non mea culpa about offering a Timbers shirt that says, "Got Wood?" completely misses the point. Why? Because men haven't been systematically oppressed for thousands of years and are in a position of privilege. We're very difficult to victimize because we're kings of the freaking world. It's very easy to take a joke at your expense in stride and laugh along with it when you essentially have nothing at stake, even more so when it refers to your anatomy, gender, or sexuality in an empowering rather than demeaning way.

….to the just plain self-righteous and narrow-minded:

The Feeling Thorny shirts are horrible. Would you want YOUR elementary or middle school or middle school daughter to wear that? There are so many more empowering quotes with the word Thorn in them. Find one.

…and the ridiculously narrow-minded:

Please replace the goofy "Feelin' Thorny" shirt with "She Flies With Her Own Wings," or something that is actually clever and not potentially demeaning to the players and fans. I get that this was an unintentional oversight and poor judgment and not everyone will take offense, but Portland can do better. Have some class.

Everyone’s entitled to his or her opinion; but here’s the problem: a small minority’s opinion shouldn’t be of greater value than that of the majority. That Golub caved when a few narrow-minded folks complained tells me three things:

  1. Some folks really don’t have a sense of humor, and they’re willing to immediately assume the worst when they encounter something that bruises their tender sensibilities. Sometimes a joke is just a joke; not everything is political.

  2. Mike Golub really needs to grow a pair. Not wanting to offend is certainly a laudable and worthy aspiration, but sometimes you just have to politely decline to cave in to a humorless, easily offended minority.

  3. The Thorns are making money hand over fist and won’t be having any financial difficulties this season (And I’m the Queen of England).

Look, I understand that some of y'all can't see the humor in the slogan and may even be offended by it. I don't get it, but then I don’t need to; you’re entitled to your opinion regardless of what I perceive its merit to be. That said, there's a very simple solution available to you: DON'T BUY A "FEELIN' THORNY?" T-SHIRT." Capice?? If Golub had said that, or words to that effect, I’d be busily scrambling to find something else to write about. Instead, he’s decided that displaying a modicum of courage and politely declining to cater to a narrow-minded minority was something he couldn’t risk. Never mind that the majority of fans would probably buy a “FEELIN’ THORNY?” t-shirt.

Way to piss off your fan base AND deny the Thorns some much-needed income, eh? If this is the way the Thorns plan on doing business, they probably shouldn’t plan on being around for long.

To those who felt the need to complain, I’m not about denying your 1st Amendment rights. It's a free country, and all are entitled to their opinion- but not to the point where the opinion of a vocal, humorless minority is accepted as being more valid that than of a significant majority.

Jeebus, get over yourselves already, willya? Y'all really need to lighten up…or at the very least give some thought to deploying your considerable narrow-minded, humorless self-righteousness against a cause that actually matters. If a two-word slogan on a t-shirt is enough to cause offense, y’all really need to take a good, long look at why you take yourselves so seriously. Life is too short to be getting your panties in a wad over something so inane. The argument that the slogan is sexist is as absurd as it is silly. If two words on a t-shirt offends you, then don’t’ buy said t-shirt. Simple, huh?

I hope Mike Golub will reconsider. Bringing the “Feelin’ Thorny?” shirts back would be the right thing to do. It would show he values the opinions of a majority of fans over a narrow-minded and humor-impaired minority. The Thorns would also make a boatload of money…which for a women’s professional soccer team struggling to be financially viable would seem to be an opportunity worth seizing.

Do the right thing by the fans, Mike…or do the Thorns really not need the money?

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