Medal-less Lolo Jones has nothing to be ashamed of

By Mac McClelland
August 8, 2012

In the highly televised, highly market-ized 2012 Summer Olympics there must be no better kind of lady-celebrity to be than a perfect-bodied and talented one. The media can be so mean to talented women without model’s bodies, and famous hotties who aren’t talented enough – like Paris Hilton, Kim Kardashian, and the Jersey Shore crew – are even more widely vilified, even by other celebrities, as hacks. Attractive Olympians rise above all that, though. They, by the very nature of competing in an exhibition with their bodies, couldn’t possibility be criticized for capitalizing on their bodies.

Or…the opposite of that. 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. Respected sportswriter Jere Longman’s “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image” vaguely poses as a takedown of a valid concern: that the Olympics are too market-driven and that the market is driven too much by beauty rather than athletic skill. But what it is instead is a takedown of attractive, magazine cover girl Lolo Jones, framing her as a slutty, no-talent sellout.

The premise is harsh, not to mention unsupportable. Longman asserts that Jones, who made the team of one of the most elite countries on the planet, and at the last Olympics almost won but ended seventh in her event, is short on achievement. He also takes issue with her modeling nude for ESPN, her tweeting that she’s never had sex, and her admitting in interviews that she grew up poor, semi-homeless and with a dad in prison. “Essentially, 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.”

There is no comment from Jones in this story, so it’s possible her reason for accepting endorsement deals is that she believes that, after all her hard work and sacrifices and being better at hurdling than every person in the world save six, she deserves them. But no matter. Essentially, Jere Longman has decided that if the Columbia Journalism Review wanted to take a picture of him naked because he worked out for six hours a day and was a great sportswriter, he would spit in the editors’ unprincipled faces.

Or maybe not, since that kind of behavior is fine for a dude. Conspicuously absent from the media landscape are articles condemning Rob Gronkowski for baring everything but his genitals on the cover of ESPN magazine. Sure, he’s the best tight end in the NFL – just as Jones was twice World Indoor Champion in her sport. But last I checked, Gronkowski hasn’t won a Super Bowl and he’s still the host of a Fox dating show. Likewise, while Tim Tebow’s shirtless rain-prancing got a lot of media attention, none of it accused him of compromising the integrity of football, or his soul. Terrell Owens, Jose Bautista, Tyson Chandler, and others could all be accused of “drawing attention to” themselves through endorsement deals despite not being particularly decorated athletes. But nobody cares.

Here’s what an editor scanning for sexism might have written on Longman’s draft, next to “Previously, Jones has defended her nude ESPN photograph on artistic grounds”: Not necessary. No male athlete or actor or anybody has to defend taking their shirt off even if they suck at what they do. And beside “she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin”: Implies that she’s not, when only reason to do so is weird investment in truth of virgin-whore paradigm. Or in the margins by “After stumbling four years ago, she is back on her feet, back in the Games. Back in position to be appreciated for her athletic skill, not merely her sex appeal. Back in position to undress her opponents, not herself”: Sounds like commentary from a mean, judgy preacher-dad. Basically says, “Cover yourself up.” Just try to imagine some of Longman’s sentences being printed about a male athlete.

Writers truly concerned with the intersection of less conventionally attractive women athletes not getting enough deserved attention, as Longman claims to be, might give a lot of deserved attention to those women athletes. Or call the marketing departments of Asics and Red Bull to ask them why they don’t give one of those women athletes an endorsement. But those alternatives might be more boring than accusing an American Olympian of “play[ing] into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal.”

Yesterday, Jones finished fourth in her marquee event, the 100-meter hurdles – a placement totally worthy of endorsements and attention. And even if she’d come in dead last, she wouldn’t have deserved the narrative framing that Longman gave her. She’s a victim, indeed, but of double standards and sexism – sexist double standards so culturally ingrained that even the newspaper of record will unabashedly print them. Jones’s fame is “really a sad commentary on the industry Lolo is in,” the article states. Maybe. Or maybe this article is a sad commentary on a different industry – the media.

PHOTO: Australia’s Sally Pearson (L) crosses the finish line ahead of Dawn Harper of the U.S. and Lolo Jones of the U.S. (C) to win during their competes in the women’s 100m hurdles final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 7, 2012.  REUTERS/Mark Blinch

12 comments

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Lolo Jones should stop ripping Anna Kournikova who was a top ten singles player and a multiple Grand Slam doubles champion. Anna was the youngest semifinalist in Wimbledon history. Anna registered many victories over the best in the game. Kournikova’s career was cut short by a series of injuries.

Posted by nckl444 | Report as abusive

Jones is the 4th best 100m hurdler in the world, Longman is a fool

Posted by Ballybunnion | Report as abusive

Thank you MAC!! You would think that Longman would have also taken the time to maybe do a favorable write up on one of the overshadowed athletes rather than just stirring the pot with them. A favorable article from the New York Times could do wonders for one of those ladies possibly getting an endorsement, yet he chose to publish an unflattering article about Lolo just days before her race. It’s very sad that this is what the NYT has to do to sell papers.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

She is an athlete, fine. So why does she make her sexual choices everyone’s business? SHE is sexualizing herself in order to sell herself, and the crapbag media and too blinded by selling sex to care. Apologist pieces to make her seem like a victim are a joke. She’s a grown woman and knows what she’s doing and, right or wrong, faces the consequences of her actions.

Comparing an olympic athlete – by definition an amateur athlete – to professional athlete that need to sell their sport is laighable at best.

Btw, almost every single athlete in these games has a rock hard body.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Nice rebuttal of the stupid article by Jere Longman. There are definitely things that are wrong about certain sports. Most athletes not in the premier sports toil in obscurity for the chance to be on the Olympic stage every 4 years. Lolo Jones got some media and marketing opportunities that are rare for her sport, and she took advantage of them. So what? Every other athlete in her position would do the same. It’s a bigger tribute to her achievement of coming in 4th in the Olympics because she actually had more options than other athletes in her field. She could have simply gone into modeling, and not put in the anonymous hours of training to get to the Olympics and compete.

Posted by chukar22 | Report as abusive

I am moved to recall the case of Anna Kournikova, a beautiful tennis player of not-championship talent. She was subject to the same scrutiny, but she seemed quite wry and witty about it all, and laughed all the way to the bank.

Posted by Curmudgeon | Report as abusive

Also winning INDOOR championships is like, to stay with the football analogies, winning a preseason game – meaningless. When she’s had the full set of competition she has failed to produce. Conflating that with a TEAM sport like football (where Gronk had a monster game in the Superbowl, in only his 2nd season) is ignorant or intellectually dishonest. As for mentioning Terrell Owens, a player so disliked he was run out the NFL, and Tim Tebow, the most contraversial player today… again, either ignorance or dishonesty. The let the author choose her own standing.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Last thought. Maria Sharapova is far more beautiful and elegant that Ms Jones and she does well to sell herself to any number of advertising campaigns. Just one other thing – SHE WINS! She also doesn’t talk about her sex life or pose nude. But hey, she’s not American.

Posted by CDN_Rebel | Report as abusive

Awesome article! It is spot-on and accurate.

Posted by SCgamecockfan12 | Report as abusive

Kudos to Mac McClelland. JerĂ© Longman’s so-called article about Lolo Jones is one of the worst I have ever read. JerĂ© should be fired immediately by The New York Times. The article is sick. Jere is sick. The New York Times and Jere Longman should be ashamed and issue an immediate apology to Lolo Jones and to all female athletes at the London Olympics. This is nothing short of character assassination – - it is despicable in every way.

Posted by mandolinwind | Report as abusive

What a ridiculously poorly written rebuttal to an article that is perfectly fine in and of itself. The Longman article isn’t at all a, “takedown of attractive, magazine cover girl Lolo Jones, framing her as a slutty, no-talent sellout.” — If you read the article, you are well aware that Longman notes the fact that Jones is a self proclaimed virgin at 30 not to insinuate that she’s lying (as this article claims), but to show that she’s using very personal sexual information about herself to gain media attention (any woman as attractive as Jones would admit it is odd to still be a virgin at this age). He only labels her for what she actually is, an attractive amateur athlete who can’t win the event she trains for in the most important competitions. It is strange in a culture where winning is celebrated so highly that simply winning for many female athletes isn’t enough, but Jones is plenty attractive without all her extra tweeting or nude photos or odd personal habits to be relevant and well endorsed. In addition to this, the article defeats itself with poorly chosen male counterpart athletes. The media actually did spend a few days discussing the Rob Gronkowski nude photos in relation to his night club dancing after losing the Super Bowl. Gronkowski was actually criticized heavily for dancing the loss in the Super Bowl out of his system. Find me one bit of media that criticizes female athletes for dancing. Oh you can’t? That’s because there are none. Also, every single athlete mentioned in this article is far more accomplished than Lolo Jones. Gronkowski is easily the best tight end in the NFL and arguably on his way to being the best tight end ever, Terrell Owens is probably the second best wide receiver to play the game of football, Tyson Chandler is the reigning defensive player of the year and an NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks, Tim Tebow is a SOPHOMORE heisman trophy winner, a two time NCAA champion, and actually WINS games, and Jose Bautista is one of the best hitters in the MLB. Not only that, but these are all TEAM SPORT athletes. Lolo competes with Lolo and that is it. None of her success is dependent on anyone but herself. Rob Gronkowski can’t win a Super Bowl or even play the game without 10 teammates on the field with him. It’s amazing the article claims these are not decorated athletes (some are among the most decorated in their entire sport). — In conclusion, if you read the Longman article, then this article, and you actually check the other athletes in question, you’ll easily see which is the better, more researched article. Heck, Mac McClelland isn’t even a sports journalist, she’s a woman and a “human-rights reporter” which sounds an awful lot like “raging feminist” to me.

Posted by Dempseylicious | Report as abusive

Good takedown, and you’re absolutely correct, Jones is being browbeat for being an attractive female athlete trying to get something out of this rare chance at exposure. Every female athlete who get’s media exposure faces this crap because they offend a certain segment of the viewing public who think woman have no business being athletes. I read the Times everyday because for the most part I think the articles are interesting and well written, but there’s always exceptions. I’ve always been of the opinion that Jere Longman is a jackass. He’s not respected by me at all. His articles are almost uniformly self serving and petty, and half the time he comes off as a unknowledgeable meathead. Not surprised he wrote this piece of crap. She shouldn’t let this get to her, Jere Longman is a putz.
One thing about this artcle troubled me hhowever. Rob Gronkowski the best TE in the NFL? I don’t think so. ;D Am I opening a can of worms there? Vernon Davis, anyone? Jimmy Graham?

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive