Opinion: Railbird T-Shirts Highlight Poker’s Problems with Mainstream Sponsors

Written By Steve Ruddock on July 1, 2014
Iffy slogan demonstrated via t-shirts at WSOP

There was a strange incident at the World Series of Poker on Monday evening, as roughly 10 members of a player’s rail (Sean Drake, who was competing in the Monster Stack final table) were wearing shirts that said, “Play Like Drake and Rape.”, which is apparently a #hashtag he uses on Twitter.

I don’t go in for a lot of the “rape culture” stuff (I’m not very PC at all), but I would be utterly embarrassed to wear that shirt alone in my own house let alone in public.

I can understand that one or two people may not have the social wherewithal to realize why saying/wearing “play like Drake and rape” is unacceptable in polite society, but for a contingent of about a dozen or so people to put on those shirts without a single one saying, “you know maybe we shouldn’t wear these?” absolutely blows my mind.

On a side note I also sort of feel bad for Sean Drake, who had to deal with an issue created by his rail while he was playing for a WSOP bracelet and life-changing money.

Before I get started, I want to make it clear that I’m NOT going to call for his sponsors to drop him or anything like that, I think that’s an overreaction at this stage and doesn’t help anyone. He’s a young kid (I’m assuming) and deserves a chance to stop using the phrase now that it’s been brought to his attention.

Although from his tweets it doesn’t appear he will stop using his signature catchphrase…

But he deserves a couple days to sleep on it. We all have said and done regrettable things at one time or another so let’s not make a mountain out of a molehill just yet.

Ok, here’s my problems with this incident…

It’s a Bad Joke to Begin With

First off, “chip rape” is an inside joke.

It’s something a small segment of the poker population uses and not some widely used slang term. Walking around in public with an inflammatory word on your shirt as a joke that only a small segment of the population will “get” demonstrates how out of touch some of the people in the poker world are.

Pro tip: If you have to explain the humor in something it’s not funny.

While I personally would immediately put two and two together that “play like Drake and rape” has something to do with poker, most people wouldn’t understand that slogan in the slightest. And now imagine the woman walking the Rio hallways who has been raped and sees you wearing a shirt that says “and Rape” emblazoned across the back?

Rape is just one of those words that can cause any room to go silent. It’s not the N-word but it’s not something you joke around about in front of your grandma either. It doesn’t pass the grandma test.

To put it in context, a lot of people will use racial/ethnic/sexual terms to describe certain qualities in their friends. The intent is not to disparage said group, and I doubt many of these people are anti-Semites or bigots or anti-woman. BUT, what you won’t see these people do is put it on a T-Shirt and go out in public.

There is something in their head that clicks in and says, it’s acceptable when I’m with a small circle of friends but not acceptable in the wider world where it will cause offense or truly hurt someone.

Now, I doubt any of the people wearing these shirts had bad intentions or are mean-spirited, and in their circle the phrase may be completely normal (so it may be they are just desensitized to it), but sometimes you have to look beyond your circle.

It’s not that anyone thinks you’re advocating rape by wearing the shirt, it’s that you’re being insensitive to the issue and to the victims of the actual crime of rape.

There Is No 1st Amendment Issue Here

I only saw one instance of this on Twitter (not that I read more than a couple of threads on it) but the First Amendment protects you from the government infringing on your speech – you know, coming to your house to arrest you because you criticized Obama, or confiscating your protest signs and things like that.

It does not allow you to say or do anything on private property, which the Rio is.

The Rio is allowed to remove anyone at anytime for virtually any reason, and wearing a shirt that says “Play Like Drake” on one side, and “and Rape” on the other is certainly more than enough reason to get the old heave-ho in my opinion.

Kids are asked to remove shirts with different slogans at school all the time, restaurants have dress codes (as do casinos), people are denied access to airplanes, and on and on and on.

If you wear a shirt with curse words or threats of violence on it people are well within their rights to complain about it and any private company (remember, the Rio is not the public square) can ask you to remove the shirt or get out.

The intent of the shirt may be benign, but as I said above not everyone understands the intent and when you tell jokes in poor taste they can sometimes blow up in your face when people don’t see the humor in your remarks

Ask Michael Richards (Kramer) what happens when you use a disparaging word and the audience doesn’t get the joke.

Don’t Blame the WSOP

When it comes to things like this it’s hard to fault a company for taking their time and being diligent. The shirts were removed (according to reports no more than two hours went by from the time the shirts were first seen and the time they were removed) and considering this is something that has to go up the corporate food chain they were probably dealt with as fast as possible.

They would have to have the shirts brought to someone’s attention; that person would then likely have to go find their boss (who might bring it to his boss); then they would have to quickly see if the report is true and investigate what the shirts say; then they would have to decide on how to handle it.

There is a lot going on at the Rio during the WSOP and it’s hard to say they didn’t react quickly enough. Basically, as much as we’d want it taken care of in 10 minutes it’s logistically complicated.

I Don’t Agree With Keeping Things Quiet Though

As some people have said on Twitter most companies would handle this quickly and quietly (as it appears Caesars did), but to me that’s not the right way to handle it all.

A public showing by the WSOP, such as kicking out all the people wearing the shirts would show the world (and particularly the poker world) that this type of amateur hour trash talking has no place at this level, and will not be tolerated at the WSOP.

It’s straight bush league stuff.

You want to act a fool and make juvenile jokes do it in your basement around your homemade poker table or online. The World Series of Poker should command more respect from the players and the fans than to bring their silly little online taunts into the Rio.

This type of crap needs to be stamped out by the WSOP and by the poker community. This game isn’t going to grow if a rail is wearing shirts anywhere near as insensitive as these.

Say bye-bye to any mainstream sponsors if something 1/2 as offensive pops up on ESPN’s coverage

Further reading:

And of course the shirts:


*Edit: This tweet has since been deleted. https://twitter.com/ChilliGirl13/status/483738394908819456

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Steve Ruddock

Steve is a well-recognized voice in the regulated U.S. online gambling industry. He writes for a number of online and print publications including OnlinePokerReport.com, USA Today, and others, with a focus on the legal market.

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