The first week of the London Olympic Games is in the books, and from Usain Bolt to Sanya Richards-Ross, the stars of track and field have lived up to their billing. Now as we enter into the second week on the track, arguably the Games’ most recognizably contentious star takes the stage. That star is 100-meter hurdler Lolo Jones, who finds herself in a peculiar position: a beautiful and talented track athlete who is the American face of Olympic track and field without holding any hardware to justify her earning millions in endorsements.
And that is why, today, The New York Times is praying and praying for Lolo’s downfall.
In a Sunday sports piece, Jerè Longman asks if Lolo is worthy of all the magazine covers, commercials, and TV specials — none of which were more infamous than her HBO feature where she proclaimed that she’s a long-suffering virgin who needs a Christian squire to slide on her glass slipper and unlock her chastity belt.
After asking this question, Longman suggests Lolo is a fraud, as much a media creation as her male Christian counterpart, Tim Tebow, whose marginal-at-best quarterbacking skills but classic Paul Bunyan looks and Evangelical spirit have landed him multi-million dollar endorsements and a back-up gig for the New York Jets.
Longman thinks that Lolo’s “exotic” looks (she’s from that exotic faraway land of Iowa) and story of redemption supersedes her hurdling prowess. Currently, in her specialty, measured in time, Lolo is only 21st in the world but leads every American track athlete in magazine covers. Additionally, Longman points to the fact that posing nude for ESPN The Magazine and Outside magazine, Lolo walks a fine line between her piety and her sexualized image (but , seriously Longman, this is America and sex sells, and again, just last week, Sportscenter resembled a Chippendales male review after Tebow ran though the rain shirtless!).
Janice Forsyth, the director of the International Centre for Olympic Studies at the University of Western Ontario, says Lolo may be just cashing in on a misogynistic sports entertainment landscape that values female athletes for their ability to sell beauty instead of brawn:
“It’s really a sad commentary on the industry Lolo is in,” Forsyth said. “Limited opportunities are there for women to gain a foothold unless they sell themselves as sex kittens or virgins for sale.”
Admittedly, Longman concedes that track and field is a sport that Americans don’t pay complete attention to in between Olympic years — unless one breaks a record, which Lolo has yet to do — thus the race to cash-in is intense for Olympic stars, most of whom can be seen attaching their smiles and reputations to seemingly contradictory sponsors like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola or arguably down right sinister corporations such as DOW, BP, and the myriad of credit card companies.
Sadly, Longman’s piece basically knocks Lolo’s hustle, but his criticism is always valid in a sports culture obsessed with a contrived iconolatry — athletes who value team (or country during the Olympics) and selflessness and eschew the quick buck. Deviating from this narrative creates disdain in die-hard and casual fans alike, but this parlor trick ultimately drives viewership and in turn produces cash.
LeBron James proved how much excitement and dollars could be generated from casual spectators wanting to see the failure of an athlete who many felt had been crowned before anything had been won.
Lolo is the woman everyone loves to hate, a 30-year-old hurdler probably in her last Olympic appearance and who America has been tailor made for “ordinary” audiences, meaning white America has its story. Since everything in America can be broken in black and white and dollars and sense, looking on the peripheral, black America has its own story that, in this particular case, mostly has to do with skin color.
Dark-n-lovely 2008 Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper has been grumbling that the media eclipses her well-deserved shine with Lolo’s endearing, bi-racial rags-to-riches story.
Speaking for white America, (not really, but for the purposes of my argument, he is) Jezebel’s Doug Barry feels that Dawn’s personality is boring and therefore she’s not high on Mad Men marketers list of athletes, irrespective of her accomplishments and somewhat similar rags-to-better rags story:
“A tight-lipped competitor such as Dawn Harper may be a more stoic and enviable athletic personality, but such an athlete offers nothing for the ordinary person to relate to”
On the surface Barry is right — Dawn is a regular God-fearing track athlete (if you notice, track is the most openly religious sport … almost everyone credits God for their ability), and she’s not shaking her ass in music videos nor did she throw up a black gloved fist during her 2008 medal ceremony, a la John Carlos and Tommie Smith — yep, she’s hella boring!
But when we, as black folks, hear that “ordinary” people — codeword for white — can’t relate, we know critics are out of excuses for excluding a multitude of black athletes into the mainstream. White folks, by in large, have no problem buying products endorsed by athletes of color, regardless of skin-tone (Serena and Venus Williams are highest earning female athletes ever) but it seems marketers can only make room for one black female athlete per sport, which makes Harper’s complaints legitimate but nevertheless specious.
What most critics ignore is that the people behind Lolo understand, appreciate, and are capitalizing off of the moment, which they know may never come around again, especially for a woman athlete, so if Harper is not willing to do what our misogynistic Madison Ave. executives require of women to make money — selling ass on magazine covers, making no intelligent statements, and staying “dolled-up” — she’ll continue to relatively starve. Conversely, complexities abound, as there are always other stories that capture America’s attention, which unfortunately, Harper doesn’t fit either.
By in large in white America, considering most of them hate to admit any racial biases, marketers allow them to redirect their inclinations toward their love for the redemptive underdog story, and Harper is the defending Olympic champ. On the other hand, Lolo’s, like LeBron’s, wins doubly off her redemptive, made-it-out-the-hood story because of her perceived sense of entitlement, which we know boils white America’s sentiments, but keeps them glued to the TV.
But in black America, contrary to what folks may think, we aren’t all that fond of entitlement either, though, in Lolo’s case, some black folks think her entitlement comes in the form of the fact that she is light-skinned AND pretty, but mostly because she’s fair.
Ever since 1988, when Florence Griffith-Joyner sprinted into American living rooms with her stunning looks and flowing long weave, outshining her sister-n-law Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who is unarguably one of the greatest Olympians ever, we’ve seen countless track stars try to recreate Flo-Jo’s buzz to no avail. Lolo is the closet we’ve gotten to Flo-Jo’s crossover appeal.
Conversely, if a pretty dark-skinned woman was receiving all of Lolo’s attention with the same relatively small success, first, it would be understandably surprising, but most of all, few would have any issue with her cashing-in on her looks. It would be an “it’s about time moment” but what black folks don’t always understand is that they are being baited into a racial game that is all about the dollars, and marketers know, more often than not, blacks vote light-skinned with their pocketbooks and time.
Marketers may force-feed Beyonce, Mariah Carey, and Lolo Jones down our throats but we reinforce their gamble with our money, tweets, posts, pins, and tumbles. These women don’t exist in a vacuum; they need the full-force of our support, and when it comes to beauty, black folks don’t vote dark. Seemingly, the only time a dark-skinned woman breaks through the mainstream is when she is achieving success with her brains or talent, or she is being lambasted for her African features, similar to the Gabby Douglas Twitter fiasco.
Now we are all mad at Lolo, but why? when, at a fundamental level, all she’s trying to do is win at the game of life, as it’s presently constructed. She wasn’t gifted her Olympic spot; she earned it on the track. Going broke to give a few critics and fans comfort in her character will lead her down similar paths that athletes who don’t realize what sports really is nowadays: entertainment. America eats its young and needs a fresh face constantly, and for women in particular, this reality is always prevalent. So hopefully Jerè Longman can fix his face and find it in his heart to root for an American athlete regardless of however many banal commercials she appears in over the next week or so. It’ll all be over sooner than you think.
I think anyone over the age of 25 who is still a virgin is fake but that just me. But I think I can agree with the New York Times that she is a wrong but you can’t hate on her making money
@Mina: Just because you are not able to fathom chastity for yourself, does not mean there aren’t many women, and men, who fail at it. There are many normal, beautiful people who are virgins over the age of 25. It’s not everyone who places the flesh before the soul.
@Natalie: I agree. I know several women who are still virgins because they were not FREE with their body. This tramp Mina is just mad because she was the cow who could no longer sell her milk. Why buy the milk when you can get the cow for free
She’s a tramp now? How do you know that? Just because someone decided to have sex means that they are now a tramp,whore.ho, ect…
I don’t agree with Mina’s comment but that doesn’t mean I have to make assumptions about someone I know nothing about just because I don’t agree with them.
SOOO it’s okay to sell sex and profit from Sodom and Gomorrah but still keep your holier than thou image?
@Fallon: this ain’t 1500 BC wake up and enjoy THIS generation….!!
The NyTimes is a wrong for what they saying. I agree with this article she has to get her money now while she’s relevant. Gabby Douglas is going to do the same thing for the next four years.
if a pretty dark-skinned woman was receiving all of Lolo’s attention with the same relatively small success, first, it would be understandably surprising, but most of all, few would have any issue with her cashing-in on her looks. It would be an “it’s about time moment” but what black folks don’t always understand is that they are being baited into a racial game that is all about the dollars, and marketers know, more often than not, blacks vote light-skinned with their pocketbooks and time.
@Yanni: That also stuck out to me. Kelly Rowland surpasses Beyonce by leaps and bounds on pure, God-given talent HOWEVER Beyonce rocks her blond weaves, humps the air for a living, is what most would consider “a long haired thick redbone” and Black people eat that up. That statement from the article is the truest thing ever written.
*Chokes from laughter at Kelly Rowland being more talented than Beyonce* Ummmmm… I guess you’ve never seen Kelly sing and perform live.
Good read. I”ll be rooting for Lolo!
Oh please, let not one of us pretend that we are not aware of what America has become mostly about: the superficial, NOT the sublime. If authentic talent, beauty, morality, and hardship combine to create a truly noteworthy individual, great. In any case, what will be asserted will be whatever “plays well” to the public, i.e., whatever “sells.” Unfortunately, media interest in the Olympic Games themselves seems to have waned. Media focus is now—increasingly—on the ridiculous, a real disservice to all the Olympic athletes, “fake” or not.
I agree with you. Everything in America is fake. Nobody wants anything real.
This whole site is dedicated to convincing people to eat real food vs. fake.
Our music is fake. Magazine covers are photo shopped.
People loved being lied to and finally someone has admitted that blacks have been so brainwashed into hating dark skin that they will indeed buy ice from a white man cause well gosh darnnit his ice is cooler.
I personally never saw Lolo’s coming out and talking about her life(christianity, virginity, and upbringing) as being a way to get media attention… When I first saw her I was like, “Hey there’s someone I can kinda relate to!” I think it’s sad how the media can twist things around.
She’s not the first female athlete to be pushed because of looks rather than their being the absolute best. She may be the best and prove everyone wrong. What about some of the Russian tennis players–gorgeous but famous more for their beauty then domination on the courts. That’s what advertisers do to women. A more interesting question is why don’t they push dark-skinned women for their beauty. That’s a bigger issue and a different issue.
Black people need to stop waiting on white people to lift up blackwomen. Most black men especially the rich and talented do not marry black women. They will marry the most unclassy, uneducated and nobody white woman before a decent black woman. Black people need to work on themselves first before they can say what the white man is not doing for black women.
Thank you Shoron I totally agree!!!!! I have reached the point in my life where I dont care about what White people say, do or feed us in the media. I am all about self elevation, evolution and the upliftment of my people. I’m not waiting for anyone to praise us (light or dark). I surround myself with positive images and try to be a positive force in my friends, families and patients’ lives.
Why is it that “we” always have to be more humble, more gracious, more self-effacing and self-sacrificing than any of our white counterparts who come to notoriety? Lolo is merely capitalizing on being the latest “media darling”. And, why not – any sport, as a career, has a very short shelf-life, which often translates into decades of sacrifice for a couple of minutes of sound bites. She should, literally, take the money and run!
Love this article Shane. I think it is a fine line for female athletes. Audre Lorde talks about dismantling the master’s house using his tools- is Lolo doing that? Ya know, I’m not so sure. Do I snicker at her being a virgin and posing nude? Absolutely. Posing nude isn’t chaste, sorry. But I admire her ability to find ways to earn a living in an area that doesn’t pay. I’m starting to get bored with the New York Times and their pseudo liberal bs. They like to chose the colored folks they want to celebrate. Commentary like this is a nice perspective and has been missing from the discourse.
Im a Jamaican T&F fan and have been following Lolo on twitter for almost 2 years, not because of her looks but because of what she has been though the last 4 years on how she is clawing her way back to the top of her sport. she popular not just because of her looks but also because she is funny and interacts with fans regularly. The interview she did was not the first time she said she is a virgin. She said it on twitter a long time ago.
@Jerine: You’re a superfan. Most of the general public didn’t know she was a virgin until that interview on a major cable network
@Shane Roberts: ahh no im not a super fan of any US athlete. she was asked that question and she is known to be straight fwd and answered it the media made it into a big thing. when announcement are made on twitter its spreads like wild fire. it was the media not Lolo who continue 2 report and write about her. For instance she didnt win a medal yet the US media continue 2 write about her and not the other 2 than won medals.
I personally don’t see the problem with the media circus that is Lolo. If advertisers are interested in her then she should capitalize on it. Like someone mentioned, the same thing occurs with the Russian tennis players, Anna Kournikova anyone? However I find it interesting that yet again she didn’t win a medal but she has positioned herself to a position in which that may just not matter.
It seems people seem so focused upon relative skin color and race times that they fail to consider what makes her so appealing to media, advertiser and the public alike: the fact that she’s Lolo Jones.
They admire her for her story; her struggle; her convictions.. and yes, her beauty as well. She is the embodiment of the American dream. Lolo came from nothing… and became something, without losing her humanity in the process. She may never have that 1/2 second, but she does have the ability to connect with people and capture their hearts. In a word, she is endearing.
Gabby Douglas is very much the same way. Had she not medaled, would you stoop to placing her on a skin-color scale too? I sure as hell hope not. Win or lose, she’s incredibly endearing just the same… and another great example of the American dream.
The mistake other athletes make is believing that winning is all that matters. Sure, we care, but not to the point of neglecting personality and human spirit. People like Lolo and Gabby are loved not for winning, but for their spirit; for who they are. Sadly, that’s something that many winning athletes will never have. They’ll continue to win the battles but lose the war… and consistent with their crappy attitudes/personalities, continue to blame petty nonsense such as the shade of their skin for not being attractive. Beauty is far more than skin deep.
Dawn Harper is awesome.
you should just be happy that somebody like her is representing us in the olympics. i assume whomever wrote this has no skills in sports or is just to lazy. it’s easy to point out faults when you don’t have the balls to do it yourself. i say leave this poor girl alone and maybe work on your own life before pointing fingers
Dawn Harper’s personality is what is killing her, not her skin color. She is very pretty and a good athlete, but every single interview of her I’ve ever read at least over the last few years is all about her resentment about not getting more attention, her jealousy of Lolo, criticism of things Lolo says or does. Some of her comments are truly disgusting to listen to. It is really unattractive and it boggles the mind that anyone can say all that ugliness should be held up as more worthy than Lolo’s positive, happy demeanor. I have never heard Lolo talk bad about anyone. Dawn should take a page from her book.
As much as we try and deny it, people are attracted to attractive people. There are those who claim that beauty is skin-deep and what really matters is personality, and though that is a wonderful sentiment, the bottom line is we are only interested in what’s on the surface. Some people make claims that they like someone because they have a “beautiful spirit” when they really know nothing about that person. You assume their spirit is beautiful because they are good-looking. People assume attractive people (especially men) can do no wrong, and are willing to sweep their many character flaws under a thick, well-padded carpet.
Since Lolo is not winning any medals, she has to capitalize on her occupation some kind of way. But we are lying to ourselves if we think skin complexion and beauty is not playing a role in her popularity. We can’t be mad at her for possessing something she has no control over. But let’s not lie and say her “spirit” is what got her those endorsement deals.
Sure, if you look like a gargoyle, you are at a real disadvantage to someone who is conventionally beautiful. I don’t think anyone denies that, but that is not all there is to it. Perceived personality plays a huge role.
Dawn Harper is every inch good-looking enough to be a celebrity or a sex symbol, if that is what she wants. She is very fortunate in her looks. Beautiful smile, great features. Her skin is a beautiful color! But winning a race in a small margin in a sport most people don’t care about doesn’t entitle her to fame and riches, and her apparent attitude of seething resentment is enough to make a lot of folks steer clear of her.
If Lolo and Dawn switched bodies, Lolo would still be more popular. Just ask any of the skinny, light-skinned newscasters and talk show hostesses who competed on the air against Oprah.
Well-written analysis, Shane. Unfortunately, it’s so much more and so much of the same. Nonetheless…regardless of Lolo Jones’ countless retelling of her story of hard knocks, proclamations of virginity, or her riding out this media-hyped gravy tail and clocking dollars–I as a darker-skinned Black woman greatly admire Lolo’s discipline, determination and perseverance to make it to the Olympics–and not just once!!!
DAWN HARPER IS FUGLY! KELLIE WELLS LOOK LIKE YOUR AVERAGE ROUNDAWAY GIRL. THEY COULDN’T SELL ICE TO A POLAR BEAR. WHY IN THE HELL WOULD ANY COMPANY OUTSIDE BLACK HAIR CARE COMPANIES PUT THEM AS THE FACE OF ANYTHING!!!!!!!
@KEEP IT 1000: HAHA glad you said it cuz I’m sure plenty of us were thinking it.
I actually think that Carmelita Jeter and Allison Felix should get more endorsements and attention over these three. They are pretty, personable, AND winners.
Lolo is no virgin stop lying to herself,and it is sad so many people believe her smh. These girls keep on renewing their virginity. That Aussie girl was too much for her.
I actually really loved Lolo until I saw her crying this morning and saying that the media “ripped her to shreds.” I’m sorry, the NY Times piece was critical, but it also had to do with the hype surrounding her without the awards to back it up. That *is* a fair point. And I don’t think they wanted her to fail, they wanted her to redeem herself. I think it’s very clear that Lolo has has some “advantages,” but no, I’m not saying that it’s her fault or that she needs to decline or try to pass the light onto someone else. However, her crying IMO, was a pure ploy to get victim sympathy and keep the spotlight on her (and it worked).
Black female athletes have made it in the public eye…you just don’t want to admit it.
In-spite of some racist attacks the two best known and liked women tennis players in the US are black.
Lindsay Davenport is already all but forgotten. Venus and Serena won’t be,
If Sloane Stephens lives up to even a part of her promise, expect her to be a household name too.
Lisa Leslie is also well liked and seen regularly on TV
You can’t watch an NBA game with seeing Cheryl Miller do an interview
Dominique Dawes had the opportunity to shine…Kerri Strug probably ruined it with her ankle injury.
Track and Field doesn’t produce too many national stars (men or women). Outside of Olympic years most of these sports don’t Only phenomenally talented and successful swimmers like Phelps make it. Did we even hear about Jason Lezak the last 4 years after the olympics?
Not saying that there is no racism. But it is not necessary to make it the dominant narrative
@Sam Jackson: Wow! Davenport, that’s a throwback, lol! I couldn’t stand the way she treated Venus on the court. I actually think she let them psyche her out of a career. That and she just got sloppy.
Well, Lolo hasn’t come out saying that she’s actually Black, and I’m sure she was raised by her white mother when her abusive Black father left or cheated (or some nefarious act we always end up doing). I’ll bet my last nikel that Lolo ends up with a white guy (because she thinks all Black men are like her father), and this rush by Black people to have her back will all be in vain.
@the archive: HAHA, dead @ “or some nefarious act we always end up doing”.
@the archive: I agree that she is going to try and find a white man. That’s the trend with black women if you believe the media. Lolo though doesn’t seem to have it all together. She’s still searching for herself much like most 30 year olds so I’ll give her that but she’ll fade to back now and probably settle down with evangelical minister who wants to water her drought
Actually you are incorrect. When Lolo made that tweet in reference to the Tebow date suggestions, she basically described herself as chocolate, so to me that is an indication that she probably considers herself black/
I think its really interesting that the NY Times and many of the critics here look to the person/individual and not the machine that has chosen to put this whole PR and marketing perspective into play. It goes to show that we will look to the effect far quicker than we examine the cause
White folks, by in large, have no problem buying products endorsed by athletes of color, regardless of skin-tone (Serena and Venus Williams are highest earning female athletes ever) but it seems marketers can only make room for one black female athlete per sport
Precious how you destroyed your own argument in the space of 2 sentences.
If I had to choose a female athlete to represent American track & field it would either be Carmelita Jeter or Allison Felix. Both are pretty, personable, AND winners.
@destinycampbell: Definitely agree with you about Allyson Felix. She racked up 3 gold medals I believe and is also quite beautiful.
White female athletes have strutted their stuff and won the hearts of endorsers – Anna Kornikova a tennis flop had fame and fortune and men eating her up! Lolo is a beautiful Black American woman and should be allowed to benefit from her beauty – her virginity – and yes she is a track star! I guess only the white athletes are suppose to capitalize in a capitalist society. Carmelita Jeter, Allison Felix, young Gabby should all capitalize on their talent and looks. The Williams sisters have changed tennis – set records and held the no 1 ranking – gold at the Olympics – singles stars and team stars yet a white Russian tennis star – you know the one who Serena slaughtered at this last Wimbledon – anyway the white girls his the highest earner – she gets all the endorsements! Gabby stunned the gymnastics world and is in line to earn millions but white media and bigots have done all they can to take the shine off her glory – The white world was in pain to see this young Black American win the day – best all around! Reality check: how many years did America keep Black athletes from competing in sports – all those past records held by whites are a ‘fraud’ – fraudulent heroes- Think about it!