Surfing Life, an Australian surf publication, is facing a $200,000 lawsuit for a story that described Indigenous Australian surfer Otis Carey as being "apeish" and comparing him to the late stone age's Cro-Magnon.
According to the surf website The Inertia, Carey is suing the article's author Nathan Myers and the surfing magazine owned by Morrison Media for defamation of character and seeking $200,000 in "emotional damages." The story was published in the March issue of Surfing Life, and the passage in-question reads:
"With his apeish face and cowering hair-curtains, I expect little more than Cro-Magnon grunts from his mouth. I am caught off guard by the clarity and eloquence of his speech.”
In response to the suit, Myers penned an open letter to Carey, which The Inertia published on Monday, but it didn't do much to appease his critics. In it, he reiterates his apology but also criticizes Carey's decision to file suit. "I think you're a fine human," Myers wrote, "And I also think you're making a mistake."
In the letter, Myers calls the lawsuit "unreasonable" and explains that the term "apeish" was "intended to convey the folly of [his] own ill-conceived first impression" of Carey, citing Carey's "dark, gritty" surf film "Kill the Matador." Myers also says that the lawsuit could put Surfing Life and its staff of "career world travelers" and "open minded people" out of business, warning Carey that he risks putting his own reputation on the line.
"You do realize of course," Myers says, "that surf magazines are how freesurfers like you make your living, right? ... Is this how you want to be remembered by surfing? The man who killed the magazine?"
Critics slammed Myers on Twitter for using a threatening tone in his response to Carey's suit:
Hi, I'm Nathan Myers, and not only did I slap Otis with a racist comment, now I'm going on @the_inertia to threaten him with exile.
— Lennox the Hillbilly (@LennoxHillbilly) April 16, 2014
— Vish (@VtotheSea) April 15, 2014
— Lolo (@66mc66) April 15, 2014
Surfing Line was quick to offer an official apology after the original story was published, claiming that they had no racist intent and that they "read the offending term as a jibe at the stereotypical surfer." They also noted that their editor Wade Davis is "a man of colour whose maternal family immigrated to Australia from Africa," a comment that further enraged their Twitter critics:
Wade Davis just took the whole "some of my best friends are black" excuse to another level." Too bad his friends aren't better editors.
— Not Dane Reynolds (@Dranolds) March 12, 2014
Unfortunately, this isn't the first time an Indigenous Australian athlete has been subjected to racist comments. Last year, Indigenous rugby player Adam Goodes was offended when a young girl called him an "ape" from the sidelines. The 13 year old apologized to the rugby star and told reporters it was meant to be a joke, but Goodes saw it as a larger problem in Australian society.
"It's an issue about what our parents are teaching our kids. I never want anyone to feel what it's like to be abused verbally about your race, about being black, about your appearance."
"To come to the boundary line and hear a 13-year-old girl call me an 'ape'," he told news reporters, "and it's not the first time on a footy field that I've been referred to as a 'monkey' or an 'ape', it was shattering."