NY Times publishes scathing critique of hurdler Lolo Jones – was it unfair?
I had to read the NY Times’ virtual take down of track and field star Lolo Jones twice and I think I’ve gathered my thoughts. Maybe. Jere Longman, an NY Times reporter took on Lolo Jones’ image and the reasons she is a bigger celebrity than fellow track and field stars with more accomplishments/talent. He even compares Jones to former tennis player Anna Kournikova who, a decade ago, was the poster girl of attention without wins.
Longman’s piece was an unfiltered assessment…the kind of thing you’d see in a marketer’s email box. It’s startling in that way and I’d like to see more pieces that take that approach. Where Longman fails, in my opinion, is at separating branding strategies from things a person does that happen to help their brand. He essentially assigned motives to Jones which makes the tone of the piece feel unfair–especially given the timing. Jones has not finished competing though if you listen to Longman she might as well just stay in her room in Olympic Village cause she’s toast.
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Final note before I list my thoughts on the piece. For those of us who pay a lot of attention to athletes’ comings and goings Jones is very annoying. She’s corny, over stated, and rather than coming off like a frisky young woman her comments often seem desperate and lacking. However, most of the public doesn’t pay that much attention because there’s really no need to. Therefore, they see Jones as a beautiful, virginal, high octane success story. I wonder if Longman has paid a lot of attention to Jones and maybe wrote from that irritated space.
I’m interested in others’ thoughts so I’ll briefly point out some issues I had. I’ll try to put them in the order they were presented in the article.
- Lolo Jones is not an “exotic beauty” as Longman states. Jones is a racially ambiguous beauty which is different and from a marketing standpoint is a much bigger advantage.
- Longman writes “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.” This is harsh to me because it assumes that Jones isn’t or can’t be all of those things at once. Jones’ image is just as schizophrenic as Longman describes. However, I perceive Lolo as someone who has some issues with men but would like to be in a relationship and maybe doesn’t know how. And perhaps her virginity is something she finds important enough to share but also something she hides behind (this is also why I think the media should put a moratorium on celebrating virginity cause you never know the real reason for that decision). Just because being all of these things effectively draws the public in doesn’t mean she’s faking the funk. She could just be an unchecked oversharer. As far as her hard luck story is concerned sports media loves two things: when athletes make mistakes and when they share stories of struggle. Biggest clicks/ratings come from those stories. Jones may not have even realized how that would take off or begin to define her given how many athletes have those kinds of backgrounds.
- Longman seems to view endorsements and public attention as something that should be congruent with accomplishments stating that Jones has “checked every box” except the ones where she actually achieves a lot. Sometimes accomplishments and attention are congruent but more often not. When has any woman who fits society’s standard of beauty had to work as hard as everyone else to get attention? Why would celebrities or athletes be any different?
- Longman interviews Jones’ fellow hurdler Dawn Harper who expresses some dismay at living in Jones shadow. I wonder if she knew the tone of the article she was interviewed for. Regardless, I found this troubling. Captain obvious alert: if there are two women of color being considered for something the lighter skinned one has a huge advantage. I can assume that Harper knows this since this isn’t the first time at the rodeo so there may be a teeny bit of resentment there that Harper has accomplished more but still can’t get what Jones has got. I’m putting words in her mouth but for valid reasons. While I understand Harper’s frustration, Jones getting attention doesn’t necessarily preclude her from getting some for herself. Let’s be honest, Jones is a bit of an exhibitionist, she seeks out feedback from the public. The media isn’t just running to her there’s a mutual relationship there. Harper may consider ratcheting up her antics but based on her comments she’s a private person. That simply won’t work if she wants Jones-level attention.
- The last two paragraphs of the article gave me the impression that Longman is just sick of women relying on sex appeal to remain relevant. Like he looks at photos of Kim Kardashian and wishes she’d just drive off a fucking cliff. I know plenty of people who are sick of that aspect of our culture but knocking Jones for capitalizing off existing methods is a bit like killing the messenger.
In short, I agree with the undercurrent of Longman’s article–that Jones is an active fame seeker and uses “openness” to get it. I do not, however, believe that accomplishments should be required for folks to fall in love with a celebrity and I’m undecided as to whether Jones’ image is tactical.
The overwhelming feedback on twitter was that Longman went too far. If you read the article let me know what you think.
You can find it here.