(The Root) — So there was U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones nearly in tears on the Today show one day after she finished fourth in the 100-meter hurdles at the London Olympics. But Jones wasn’t just upset about failing to medal in an event that she’d trained for most of her life. What made Jones angry was having to defend herself against the devastating New York Times article that said — and I’m paraphrasing here — she was a very pretty loser who has used her good looks to get more attention than she deserves.
One of the more interesting aspects of these “social media” games has been watching how swiftly the couch jockeys have taken to Twitter and Facebook to criticize athletes — particularly black female athletes. There were barbed comments about Gabby Douglas’ hair and her “unpatriotic” leotard, and disapproving statements about Serena Williams and her Crip walk. Even British weightlifter Zoe Smith had to shoot down Twitter trolls after they attacked her for looking too manly.
But Jones’ takedown was particularly brutal because it was done with the megaphone of the New York Times. Sportswriter Jeré Longman accused the biracial Jones of using her “exotic beauty on a sad and cynical marketing campaign” to gain attention for herself and the products she endorses.
Even fellow teammates Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, who had equally compelling stories and who actually won medals, grew weary of all the attention Jones was getting. Longman went on to note that “Jones is not assured enough with her hurdling or her compelling story of perseverance. So she has played into the persistent, demeaning notion that women are worthy as athletes only if they have sex appeal.”
In case Longman hadn’t noticed, hurdling and having a compelling story don’t always pay the bills. CNNMoney reported that “only 50 percent of American track-and-field athletes who are ranked in the top 10 in the nation in their event earn more than $15,000 a year in income from the sport,” based on a survey conducted by the USA Track and Field Foundation. And given the short shelf life that comes with competing on the world’s stage every four years, Jones has every right to get as much as she can as long as she can.
The bottom line is, Jones can’t help how she looks. Her parents are to blame for that. And she certainly can’t help that advertisers are willing to throw endorsement dollars her way based on those looks. We as a society bear much of the blame for holding a narrow standard of beauty in such high regard. Jones just used her God-given abilities to reap the benefits of a system she neither created nor controls.