Thursday, August 26, 2004

T-shirt slogan 'cruel,' W.Va. governor says

He rails at 'No Lifeguard At the Gene Pool'

The Associated Press

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's Gov. Bob Wise versus Abercrombie & Fitch - round two.

Wise said the retailer's latest T-shirt poking fun at West Virginia is "cruel."

The T-shirt's slogan is "West Virginia: No Lifeguard At the Gene Pool" and it has an image of a boy and girl in a kiddie pool superimposed on an outline of the state.

The company is selling the T-shirt in women's sizes for $24.50.

"I enjoy a joke - including one about me - as much as you do," Wise wrote in a letter to the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Michael Jeffries on Wednesday. "What I cannot understand is attempted humor that wrongly and cruelly stereotypes people."

The governor's letter pointed out what he considers positive aspects of West Virginia - including the Promise Scholarship Program, the highly rated Army National Guard program and prominent West Virginians such as former POW Jessica Lynch.

Wise previously sent a letter to Abercrombie & Fitch in March, demanding that the clothing retailer dump another T-shirt that spoofed the state with the slogan, "It's All Relative in West Virginia." He also criticized that T-shirt during an appearance on NBC's Today.

"What I've learned about a bully is if you don't respond to a bully, they just keep punching you," Wise told WSAZ-TV on Tuesday.

"I'd rather punch back. But I'd rather punch back using my plan, my scheme and at the same time get a positive message out about West Virginia," he said.

Abercrombie & Fitch spokesman Tom Lennox did not return a telephone call seeking comment Wednesday

Lennox had said in March that the company's shirts - which target young adults - are meant to be "humorous and lighthearted."

West Virginia is not the only state being lampooned by the company, which is based in New Albany, Ohio.

Other T-shirts target Kentucky ("Electricity In Almost Every Town") and Wisconsin ("Wisconsin Cuts the Cheese").

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