Longman even called Jones out for flaunting her virginity and revealing too much about her troubled childhood. But perhaps Jones’ real crime, as pointed out by the Jezebel website, was being a female Olympic athlete the wrong way. Even though, for the first time in Olympic history, each team had a woman competing, female athletes still face challenges in how they’re treated and how the media covers them.
But where Longman really twisted in the dagger was on Jones’ competitive record. One source in the story compared Jones to Anna Kournikova, the bombshell ex-tennis player who was better-known for her looks than for winning tournaments. Longman noted that Jones “barely made the Olympic team with a third-place finish at the United States trials.”
It should be noted that “barely made the Olympic team” is kind of like being “a little bit pregnant.” She did make the team, strictly on talent and without the aid of a swimsuit competition. The Olympic trials are not a beauty contest. It should also be noted (but wasn’t in the Times story) that Jones had to battle back from spinal-cord surgery in a less than a year’s time just to be able to run in those trials.
In Beijing in 2008, Jones was a heel’s-length away from winning gold (after clipping the second-to-last hurdle, she placed seventh). How many of us ever come that close to being the best in the world at what we do? This time in London, she came in fourth. No, she didn’t win a medal, but she’s still faster than Jeré Longman. (On Thursday, New York Times Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane weighed in on the controversy, calling Longman’s piece “too harsh.”)
Like so many Olympic athletes, Jones sweated and trained for years, all for the chance to represent her country, with limited opportunity for pay and glory. She and all Olympic athletes deserve to be an endless source of inspiration.
“Maybe there’s a little girl who doesn’t think she can be an Olympic athlete, and she sees all the things I struggled through to get here,” Jones told Savannah Guthrie in that Today-show interview. “I just really hope that my story will give somebody hope. Yeah, I didn’t walk away with a medal or run away with a medal, but I think there’s lessons to be learned when you win and there [are] lessons to be learned when you lose.”
What’s so sad and cynical about that?
Genetta M. Adams is a contributor to The Root.