Lolo Jones can't be sexy, Christian and a hurdler

Some readers sent in a recent piece from Salon, which (for those who stopped reading it back in the 1990s) bills itself as "the leading progressive news site, combining award-winning commentary and reporting on the most important issues of the day." But we don't really look at "progressive" or "conservative" sites for how well they report the news because we're more interested in mainstream publications. If they want to publish a piece about Gabby Douglas and how it would be easier to like her "if she were not so, so, so into Jesus," that's their business. We do want to see better coverage of religion angles than we've seen in, say, this New York Times story about Gabby this week that  mentioned her parents sent her to live with a family in Iowa so she could continue training. It included the line, "Both shared religious beliefs." Oh you don't say. How fascinating! Be sure to keep it a secret what those religious beliefs are.

And yet that treatment of religious views is a million times better than this utterly bizarre screed against Lolo Jones that ran August 4, bylined Jeré Longman. It reads like Longman wrote it after asking Lolo Jones out on a date and she declined.

It's part misogynistic attack, part error-prone analysis and part, well, let's let Business Insider's Joseph Weisenthal say it:

Was the NYT Lolo Jones hit job really the blatant expression of Christian-phobia that it seemed to be? Usually it's much more subtle.

Whatever else it was, the piece was a really odd thing for a paper like the New York Times to run on the eve of a big race.

For background, Lolo Jones is a world-class athlete. From Wikipedia, we learn "She won three NCAA titles and garnered 11 All-American honors while at LSU. She won indoor national titles in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in the 60 m hurdles, with gold medals at the World Indoor Championship in 2008 and 2010. She was favored to win the 100 m hurdles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she tripped on the penultimate hurdle, finishing in seventh place. She went on to win silver at the 2008 World Athletics Final. Jones is the American record holder in the 60m hurdles with a time of 7.72." She's also very attractive and has received quite a few sponsorships. Oh, and she's an evangelical Christian who has spoken about her faith.

Yesterday she ran a 100-meter hurdle heat with a season-best time of 12.68 seconds, second to top-ranked Sally Pearson of Australia among the field of 50.

So back to the odd Times piece that ran before Jones' race:

Judging from this year’s performances, Lolo Jones seems to have only a slim chance of winning an Olympic medal in the 100-meter hurdles and almost no possibility of winning gold.

Still, Jones has received far greater publicity than any other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games. This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, 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.

Women have struggled for decades to be appreciated as athletes. For the first time at these Games, every competing nation has sent a female participant. But 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. And, too often, the news media have played right along with her.

What the what? I don't know what to say. I get that some people think that Jones has spent too much time on making money and being pretty. I've heard it before and will hear it again (and again). But, still, this is just bizarre.

Apparently the New York Times thinks it's hypocritical of Jones to show off her body and then not put out. Apparently the New York Times thinks she's to blame for the media attention she's received. Apparently the New York Times doesn't just know what is going on in Jones' head, it knows that she's a fraud and a traitor to her sex.

It gets worse:

In 2009, Jones posed nude for ESPN the Magazine. This year, she appeared on the cover of Outside magazine seeming to wear a bathing suit made of nothing but strategically placed ribbon. At the same time, she has proclaimed herself to be a 30-year-old virgin and a Christian. And oh, by the way, a big fan of Tim Tebow.

The ESPN picture and Outside magazine shoot are things that could appear -- easily -- in the New York Times. In fact, far more risque things have appeared in the New York Times. But where in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks does the reporter get off saying that a completely normal Outside magazine photo shoot (albeit one that apparently moved the reporter quite deeply) puts her at odds with being Christian, a virgin or a Tim Tebow fan? That tells us a great deal about the reporter and more or less nothing with Jones.

It's not like either photo gave evidence that Jones was not a virgin. Not at all.

The piece goes on to say that she's never accomplished anything in the Olympics. Which is sort of true. But in telling the story of her Olympics disaster in 2008, it omits a key fact: she was a favorite to win. Instead we're told she "stumbled home" after hitting a hurdle and ended up in seventh place. Then we're reminded that she barely made the team this year and that 19 hurdlers have posted faster times than her (previous) best time this year, including two Americans.

One thing the story doesn't mention -- because it happened today -- is that another favorite to win hit a hurdle in the 100-meter heat and won't be eligible to compete for a medal. Stuff like that happens even if you're not a vixen/virgin/victim, I guess. (You can read USA Today's account of how Jones sympathized with her competitor here.)

The article quotes someone saying that the situation reminds her of Anna Kournikova. The reporter says that's a woman whose looks received more attention than "her relatively meager skills." It is an apt comparison, but not for the reason the reporter thinks. Kournikova was also very attractive and good at getting marketing gigs. But she was also a world-class athlete who was a top 10 singles tennis player and number one doubles player. That the media cared more about her looks than her skills says more about them, again.

Then the paper characterizes a fellow Olympian as talking crap about Jones. Although I think the reporter may have set up the quote kind of unfairly. When hurdler Dawn Harper says she doesn't talk about her family, the reporter sets it up as that she "acknowledged being startled by the extent to which Jones has revealed details" about her rough childhood. If she said she was startled, she should be quoted saying as much. Otherwise, let her words stand on their own. And if the reporter is suggesting that Jones' horrible childhood (Her father in prison, living in a Salvation Army basement) was a marketing ploy, that's bizarre.

But then it gets even more ridiculous:

In recent days, Jones has been criticized for what many have called an insensitive Twitter remark in the wake of the mass shooting in a theater in Aurora, Colo. After the United States lost the gold medal to Italy in the team archery competition, Jones wrote, “When’s da Gun shooting competition?”

She clarified her remark, saying she was referring to American pre-eminence in hunting, which she had done with Southerners. (Jones attended Louisiana State in a state known as the Sportsman’s Paradise.)

Unbelievable. She was criticized? By whom? Anyone other than the New York Times? Called insensitive? By whom? Anyone other than the New York Times? I doubt it.

Here is the actual tweet:

No one that read that tweet would think she was referencing a mass shooting in Aurora. No one. And the New York Times is only revealing how little it had to go on if it's claiming as much.

The piece ends by ripping Jones, again, for being attractive and appealing.

Or, as Isaac Rauch explained it over at Deadspin:

In sum: Lolo Jones "proclaims herself" a virgin and a Christian, but has posed for two magazine covers over the course of three years that might be titillating if you don't have the internet. As it has with many other athletes, the media has allocated attention to her because she's more interesting than most of her peers. She's comfortable talking about a troubled childhood in public; other athletes aren't. She sent out a tweet which the Times edited and took out of context to make her look bad. She's not as a good hurdler as she was four years ago.

I know that some media outlets are discussing the discomfort some American progressives feel about rooting for Team U.S.A. but even they would probably find this brazen attack on Jones to be a bit much.

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