Letter attacking Crowns raises hackles at Skico
The author of a particularly nasty letter attacking the Aspen Skiing Co.’s owners accepted a $5,000 scholarship from the company in 1998 for his son.
Steve Smilak, a longtime valley resident and the father of four, had a letter published last weekend in the Aspen Daily News that slammed the Crown family for its grooming policy that led to the firing of a snowboard instructor last week.
Addressed to the Crown family, the letter bashed the Crowns not only for its company’s policy of forbidding men with long hair to work at the Skico, but accused them of bankrolling the Roaring Fork Club golf course in Basalt and called them a “savage beast with the mentality of a Neanderthal” and “unforgiven money changers.”
He said yesterday he does have some regrets about the words he chose, but those regrets have nothing to do with accepting the scholarship. He said he still would have written harsh words about a policy he thinks is unjustified.
“I’m grateful for their financial assistance, but it doesn’t excuse promulgating that kind of abusive crap,” Smilack said. After a pause he continued, “I don’t know what else to call it.”
Skico officials were reluctant to comment on the letter, though spokeswoman Rose Abello said one section about the family’s religious morals appeared to be “libelous” and called the Crown’s financing of the golf course an “untruth.” The Crowns apparently have no involvement in the Roaring Fork Club.
Skico CEO and president Pat O’Donnell said: “I personally don’t feel there is any place in the community for that kind of vicious attack – on anybody. It’s unwarranted and out of order, especially when the facts related to the golf course are blatantly false.”
Smilack’s letter was sparked by the firing of Yaromir “Yaro” Lahulek, a snowboard instructor who refused to cut off his ponytail to meet the grooming policy. The incident set off a fury of letter writing to local papers, with the majority (though not all) criticizing the company for its policy.
Smilack’s letter was by far the most vicious, and one section borders on libel, according to an attorney familiar with media law. The letter infers the Crowns are the same type of “money changers” that Jesus urged his followers to drive from the temple.
“Been to Church lately, Crowns, to praise anything beyond your ability to squeeze out the last few slobbering cents of a long-haired peasant who cares to stand up? I know what you would have done to Jesus you unforgiven money changers. Might may make right on Earth, Crowns, but compassion sits on the right hand of God,” Smilack wrote.
The Crowns are Jewish, according to Newton Bartley, who knows the family. Smilack says if he had known that, he would have dropped the reference to Jesus. “I’m sorry for those who mistook the letter as anti-Semitic. It wasn’t meant that way,” he said.
Chris Beall, a Denver attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues and represents The Aspen Times, said as far as he could tell, the letter was not libelous, because it didn’t likely damage the Crowns’ reputation in the community.
The religious reference did, however, catch the attorney’s attention: “It really depends if Mr. Smilack knew that the Crowns are Jewish.” But he said the letter clearly demonstrates itself as an opinion piece, so it would be difficult to prove libel.
Smilack says that, as a Jew himself, and a member of a family that was forced to leave its synagogue in the 1950s after his father was accused of wrongdoing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he has always preached tolerance.
He said he is disturbed that another Jewish family would force a policy on its employees that has nothing to do with ability to do the job, or even personal hygiene. And he wonders how stifling self-expression is good for business.
“Unfortunately, money has a way of making us forget our roots. I just want people to wake up and realize what these rules represent,” he said.
Solomon Smilack, 1998 valedictorian at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, was one of three graduates to win a $5,000 scholarship from the company.
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