Lolo Jones is complaining today that the media "ripped her to shreds." The thing is, it didn't. Well technically, one New York Times writer did try to rip her to shreds. And unfortunately, that's the story she's running with.
"I think it was crazy just because it was two days before I competed, and then the fact that it was from a U.S. media [outlet]," Jones told NBC's Savannah Guthrie in an interview with Today this morning. "[T]hey jut ripped me to shreds ... And I just thought that was crazy because I work six days a week every day for four years for a 12-second race," she said. Perhaps cutting words sting a bit more after coming in fourth, a very respectable showing, in 100-meter hurdles.
The article in question is a New York Times piece entitled "For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image" that ran on August 4, penned by Jere Longman, who covers sports (soccer and track and field seem to be his forte) for the paper. And although Jones like to throw out the word "crazy" to describe Longman's article, that certainly isn't the only way to describe it. "Fair" or "cynical" also come to mind.
"Judging from this year’s performances, Lolo Jones seems to have only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles and almost no possibility of winning gold," opened Longman. "Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games," he wrote, swiping at the (at times) unspoken underbelly of these Olympic Games--that these two weeks are an amazing monetary opportunity for these athletes and these endorsements, deals, and television appearances won't happen again for four years. Longman specifically takes aim at Jones , who he believes with her candid Twitter account, her honey-hued good looks, and virginity has gamed, even cheated the four-year system and gotten media outlets to pay attention, brands to open up their wallets, even though she was the seventh place finisher at the previous Olympic games. "Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses," he wrote.
What doesn't help the matter is the lack of attention that the other two American hurdlers, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells who finished ahead of Jones with a silver and bronze respectively, aren't shy in talking about the unfairness of Jones's lack of accomplishments and bevy of endorsements:
But even before that inappropriate smack-talking, Longman had already dubbed Jones the Anna Kournikova of track and field. The thing is, well wait. Let's put something to rest. Anna Kournikova was a great tennis player and hovered in and around the top ten of women's singles for her career and even held the number one ranking in doubles for a bit and won grand slams. You don't get there by being terrible. But back to the point, it isn't Kournikovas, Beckhams, Sharapovas, and yes, even Lolo Jones's fault that companies want to shove dollars into their wallets. And we should probably be mad at said companies or the photo editors who want half-naked Lolo Jones editorials to spike readership. But Longman and some experts decided to pick on Jones, and "the media" decided to come to her defense.
Some called it sexist. "If there’s anything we learned from this weekend’s New York Times article on American hurdler Lolo Jones, it’s that there’s no place a gal can land on the attractiveness-talent continuum without being subject to sexist press," wrote Reuters' Mac McClelland citing the lack of shaming and name-calling when Tim Tebow became a "shirtless rain prancer" or Rob Gronkowski bared almost all in ESPN: The Magazine's body issue.
Slate's Alyssa Rosenberg called it unfair:
In an Olympics that's been marked by stories about the financial woes of athletes, and the financial disparities between the families of competitors, there's something deeply strange about condemning a competitor for doing what it takes to fund a rigorous training program and to stay financially afloat.
Deadspin's Isaac Rauch, called shenanigans.
At the same time, says the article, "she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin and a Christian," as if the cover of Outside magazine was a close-up of her punctured hymen, or her ESPN The Magazine pose showed her shooting up inside a flaming pentagram.
And Sports Illustrated's Sarah Kwak picked Longman's piece apart, for the silly premise of chastising an athlete for being too honest, even glib:
In a landscape where we complain that athletes have become so cookie-cutter, rehearsed, cliché and protected, Jones is being lambasted for trying to have a sense of humor and a personality. She's being criticized for sharing her compelling life story. However well-publicized her family's struggles may be, that doesn't make them any less true. Track was always her ticket out, and she's not the first athlete to see sports that way. Can you really blame her for taking advantage of an opportunity that only comes around once every four years?
Hey, even The National Review's Rob Doster got in on all the fun:
No, like Kournikova, Jones is merely a world-class athlete who has failed to check the right boxes to satisfy The Times’s sensibilities.
As this episode has made clear: They might not be champions, but both Jones and Kournikova are far better at their craft than Longman is at his.
Just in case you were keeping score: yes, Slate, Deadspin, National Review, and Sports Illustrated (and many others like The Daily Beast) all on the same page against the Longman's article. But all that push-back makes Jones's defense from this morning seem a little puzzling:
I have the American record. I am the American record holder indoors, I have two world indoor titles ... Just because I don’t boast about these things, I don’t think I should be ripped apart by media. I laid it out there. I fought hard for my country and I think it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so broken-hearted as it is.
So maybe Lolo just reads The Times or something, but it seems like Jones has fully taken on the role of "victim" here and conveniently stepped into the role that Longman set up for her by focusing on the one article bringing her down, blowing it up on the Today show and turning it into the next chapter of her Olympic story. It wasn't Longman's fault she lost the race, nor is it Jones's fault that people calling the shots can't get enough of her. But she made it that much more difficult for us, as readers, as fans, as media critics, or even jaded cynics, in figuring out if, as Longman suggested, "image" really is everything to Lolo Jones.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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