July 06, 2011
The Toronto Argonauts have found themselves at the centre of some controversy thanks to an ad campaign running in Toronto subway cars. The posters, seen at right, feature defensive end Ricky Foley looking tough and the message "Home Is Where The Heart Is. It's Also Where We Hurt People," as well as ticket information for the team's July 23 home opener and other games.
That message spawned some negative reactions; the Toronto Transit Commission received at least five complaints about it, it's drawn criticism on Facebook, Toronto city councillor Mike Layton (son of federal NDP and Official Opposition leader Jack Layton) wrote a letter to Argonauts' president Bob Nicholson blasting the campaign, and the team eventually decided to pull their ads. Here's what Mike Layton had to say about why he was concerned:
"While I understand the intended meaning, my concern is the unintended consequences," Layton wrote. "In the context of domestic violence, the ad insinuates that domestic violence in the home is acceptable or normal. The ad may also trigger traumatic responses in the many survivors of domestic violence who are courageously moving forward with their lives."
"I think it's pretty common knowledge that football is a contact sport and a physical game," Bedford said. "We didn't look at it in the context of domestic violence and we probably should have, given that we've had a handful of complaints."
However, even pulling the posters has caused controversy. The National Post's Joe O'Connor blasted Layton's criticisms as an example of overly-enthusiastic political correctness:
How that particular football — hurt — could possibly "insinuate", as Toronto city councilor Mike (son of Jack) Layton wrote in a letter of complaint to Argos president, Bob Nicholson, "that domestic violence in the home is acceptable or normal" and "the ad may also trigger traumatic responses in many survivors of domestic violence who are courageously moving forward with their lives," is, well, let me see here: crazy talk.
Politically correct crazy talk uttered by a politician who has received a handful of complaints from a handful of concerned citizen-busybodies who clearly missed the intended message. Or else, they did not miss it, and simply chose to ignore it and label the poster as some unholy, domestic-violence-promoting demon instead.
You know, because that is what our modern day puritans do: they go looking for the beast with the horns, the pitchfork and the tail. And they invariably find that he is everywhere.
O'Connor's got a bit of a point; the Argonauts certainly weren't trying to promote domestic violence, and the ad doesn't necessarily suggest it to many people. I doubt most people are going to come away from that ad with the message that "domestic violence in the home is acceptable or normal". However, that doesn't make it a good ad campaign, and Layton's second criticism, "the ad may also trigger traumatic responses in many survivors of domestic violence who are courageously moving forward with their lives," seems to carry more weight.
Display advertising in particular is often about quick impressions rather than gaining the whole context of an advertisement, and displaying "Home Is Where The Hurt Is" in big letters certainly would appear to have the potential to bring back awful memories for some domestic violence survivors. It's not like the Argonauts needed to use that specific marketing line; there are plenty of other taglines they could have gone with that wouldn't have hurt or offended anyone, so blaming "political correctness" seems a bit over the top.
It's worth noting that even the straight football interpretation of the ad campaign isn't all that great. It's implying that the Argonauts play specifically to hurt their opponents, and while some fans might like the idea of that, it's worth noting that leagues have cracked down on that kind of language in the past. In particular, NFL linebacker James Harrison got in trouble last year over comments that he's out to hurt opponents, and deservedly so. Playing to hurt people has drawn criticism from outspoken Argonauts like Adriano Belli in the past, so it's curious that the team's aligning themselves with that mentality.
Sure, football is a physical game, and violence is often used to sell it; big hits (like Jamall Johnson's on Buck Pierce) get attention, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with that. There's a difference between hitting somebody and hurting somebody, though, and the latter is troubling in the context of all the frightening information out there on concussions and leagues' attempts to reduce and deal with them. There are plenty of ways the Argonauts can sell their product without promoting hurting people, on or off the field. In fact, some of the best efforts they've done in the past have come through community engagement, whether that's through revitalizing high school football or running anti-bullying campaigns through Stop The Violence; that presents a much more positive message than ads testifying their willingness to hurt people. From this corner, it's a good thing they pulled this campaign; let's hope they can come out with a better one next time around.