Medal-less Lolo Jones has nothing to be ashamed of
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