Lolo Jones has gotten a lot of attention in the media this year, and according to the New York Times, it’s incommensurate with her abilities as a hurdler. In what amounts to a failed takedown piece titled “For Lolo Jones at the Olympics, Everything Is Image” published on Sunday, sports writer Jere Longman accused Jones not only of being a sub-par athlete (because apparently qualifying for the Olympics doesn’t quite put you at the top), but he also blamed her for sexist sports coverage–an interesting theory, and one that sounds an awful lot like victim-blaming of the worst sort.
Longman touches on her accomplishments, but his evaluation seems harshly slanted to prove a point: That she’s not “the best” by his estimation, and that her career has waned following her tragic performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she was expected to win but landed in 7th place because of a famous fall at the second-to-last hurdle in her race.
But Longman spends a very long time discussing Lolo’s “vixen, virgin, victim” identity in the media. Parts of his description sound a lot like slut-shaming:
In 2009, Jones posed nude for ESPN the Magazine. This year, she appeared on the cover of Outside magazine seeming to wear a bathing suit made of nothing but strategically placed ribbon. At the same time, she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin and a Christian. And oh, by the way, a big fan of Tim Tebow.
(Because religious women are NEVER supposed to wear swimsuits or pose naked…like 27 other athletes did for ESPN leading up to the Olympics this year).
When he asked Dawn Harper, the American hurdler who won gold at Beijing, how she feels about being in Lolo’s shadow, he didn’t get the desired shit-talking sesh he was hoping for.
At one point, it was frustrating, Harper said, adding that she resolved the matter through prayer.
“I don’t care what anyone else is getting; I’m excited to be here,” she said. “At the end of the day, you can talk about all that, but you’ve still got to mention my name.”
So he clung to a tidbit of judgement in order to launch into a critique of Lolo’s choice to share her family history:
Yet Harper acknowledged being startled by the extent to which Jones has revealed details about her own dissolute childhood in Des Moines. Her father spent time in prison. Her family lived for a period in a Salvation Army basement. She had a brief and desperate career as a child shoplifter.
“I’ve had family issues as well, but I’m not willing to say all of them just so it can be in the papers,” Harper said. “I don’t want that for myself or my family.”
So, if you’re not outraged by her sexuality, then you should be outraged by her overshare?
Jones admitted in an interview with Today‘s Savannah Guthrie that she’s an open book, saying “maybe I should zip it” about the details of her personal life, including her family and choices about her virginity.
Deadspin’s Isaac Rauch made the salient point that, whatever Jones says, does or tweets, she’s not a member of the media:
…maybe the media descends upon you if you aggressively push a given narrative, but ultimately every outlet controls what it covers and what it doesn’t. Lolo Jones isn’t an assignment editor.
Nor is she a sports writer, which Jere Longman is.
There’s no doubt that audiences and news outlets are obsessed with athletes who look sexy. Longman himself admits that the media has taken equal advantage of Ryan Lochte’s sex symbol status–and his mother’s comments about his dating habits–throughout the Olympics this year (although he seems to think it deserves more merit because “Lochte is also appreciated for his haul of Olympic swimming medals”). All of which makes it very difficult NOT to cover athletes who offer up compelling personal stories, salacious details of their love lives, and pretty faces, to top it off.
But if you’re so morally opposed to this kind of sports coverage, then you can choose not to do it.
But instead of losing out on the pageviews bound to be generated by one of the year’s most popular Olympic athletes, Longman chose to put his spotlight on Lolo. It’s just that, instead of owning up to his own exploits, he chose to point a finger at her: Because if anyone is to blame for sexist sports coverage, it’s got to be the female athletes, right?
Photo: Facebook/Lolo Jones