Signs of Discontent

Signs Of Discontent

Billboard wordplay has caught the Blazers off guard and angered some feminists.

BY THACHER SCHMID | 503-243-2122

[December 8th, 2010]

It takes a second glance to realize that some billboards in the city that’s home to the Trail Blazers aren’t a typo.

The capital letters, several feet tall and a dozen wide, spell the words “TAIL BLAZERS” and are nestled between the faces of actors Charlie Sheen and Neil Patrick Harris. They’re plastered on at least three billboards and one MAX light-rail train as part of a NW32/KRCW ad campaign to pitch two TV series, Sheen’s Two and a Half Men and Harris’ How I Met Your Mother, just as the Trail Blazers’ basketball season started in October.

Both shows appear in syndication and share womanizing as a leitmotif. But the ads have sparked controversy.

In early November, the Oregon Women Lawyers email listserv erupted in a flurry of emails about the ads, calling them “demeaning,” “scary” and “genuinely offensive.”

And other residents of a city known nationally for its child sex-trafficking problem and myriad strip clubs are objecting, too, beyond the quibbles from some of the lawyers group’s 1,500 members.

“They’re horrible, horrible,” said Jennifer Faust, 42, squinting at the Tail Blazers billboard above the Lucky Devil strip club on Southeast Powell Boulevard. “It’s like, why? Why do we promote this?”

“It’s cowardice, actually, and very discriminatory and prejudiced,” said William Bierbrauer, a 57-year-old Blazers fan who proudly recalls the team’s 1977 championship season.

A Trail Blazers spokeswoman distanced the team from the ads.

“We are aware of the sign and it is apparent that they are looking to leverage our brand to promote their programming,” spokeswoman Alissa Moore wrote in an email. “We don’t care for the message as it is not aligned with how we look to conduct ourselves.”

It’s an especially sensitive topic for the Blazers, still struggling to live down the “Jail Blazers” era, when Zach Randolph, Damon Stoudamire and Qyntel Woods had run-ins with the law and Ruben Patterson was required to register as a sex offender after he pleaded guilty to the attempted rape of his children’s nanny.

NW32’s owner, the Chicago-based Tribune Company, did not respond to a request for comment.

Charlie Sheen’s agent, Stan Rosenfield, also declined comment about the timing of the ads, after recent allegations by a porn actress that Sheen assaulted her, as well as Sheen’s guilty plea in August to charges of assaulting his wife last Christmas.

The recent discussion on the OWLlistserv was intense and intellectual, ranging to such far-flung topics as traditional Muslim hijab dress and the Junior Blazers Dancers.

OWL members who responded to a Nov. 28 posting with this reporter’s name and telephone number had diverse takes on the controversy. Not all were offended by the billboards.

“I wasn’t offended by it at all, and actually, it seemed outrageous how big of a deal it was made out to be,” said Alana Iturbide, 25, a Lewis & Clark law student. “It was pretty one-sided, people felt it was demeaning to women, etcetera. Everyone is entitled to put up billboards and have free speech, essentially.”

FACT: “ Tail Blazers” is also the name of a Portland group of dog lovers—mostly women—who get together to play a game called flyball, in which dogs navigate obstacles to retrieve balls. Co-founder and certified dog trainer Greta Kaplan wrote to say that her teammates found the billboards “crass.”