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.