The New York Times Goes Hard, and Loose, at Lolo Jones Before She Opens the Olympics


Happy Birthday, Lolo Jones! The New York Times has a present for you in the form of an attacking piece that compares Jones to Anna Kournikova, minimizes her athletic accomplishments, and suggests she is part of some cynical marketing campaign.

“So she has played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal. And, too often, the news media have played right along with her,” says Jeré Longman.

The piece points out that she posed nude for the “Body Issue” of ESPN the Magazine in 2009, contrasting that with her proclamation to be a virgin and a Christian. One can look at those photos (which are a profile shot) and find them not to be incongruous with those claims. Lolo Jones commented after she participated, saying “[t]he whole premise behind the shoot was not to create sex appeal, but to portray a strong, beautiful, athletic woman and I think we achieved that.”  You can decide for yourself whether that is inconsistent, but I wouldn’t take the Times writer’s word for it.

The piece basically minimizes Lolo Jones as a legitimate athlete. If you knew nothing about her career other than the news about her virginity, and then read the Times piece, you would have an altered view of reality. The Kournikova reference might lead you to think she has shot to prominence only on flouting her body. You might not realize she was a NCAA champion. When the Times writer says her “career has since ebbed” following the 2008 Olympics where she hit the 9th hurdle after leading, you might not realize that she in fact won the U.S. Indoor Title in 2009 or the 2010 World Championship at the 60 m hurdles. When the writer tells you that nineteen other hurdlers have better times than Jones, it is not clearly stated that is just for this calendar year in a handful of official races. You might instead be mislead to believe her best effort is not good enough. Her best is plenty of good enough. The comparison to Kournikova is ridiculous and undermines the rest of the piece.

Does Jones market herself? Do I know whether she is earnest or not? I don’t. I also don’t think she is any different than other athletes in the Olympics who do so. From Oscar Pistorius to Misty May-Treanor to Michael Phelps, I think that all of them will market themselves in some ways. I don’t begrudge them that.

Being an Olympian for the “ringsssss” crowd is tough. Imagine instead of having four chances at a major, like in golf or tennis, being judged by someone who says you ebbed, because you made one mistake in one event four years ago. Four years is a long time, maybe Jones at 30 will not re-capture it. I think her career, and her chances, are much better than the New York Times wants you to believe, though.

[photo via US Presswire]