From Clutch Magazine: When Team USA Olympic hurdlers Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells came in silver and bronze Tuesday behind a heavily favored Sally Pearson of Australia, they were all smiles, giddy even. Harper, a 2008 gold medalist in the same event, didn’t even seem to mind that she’d fallen just 0.02 seconds from repeating her win. Because while it might have been a bummer to lose to the accomplished Pearson, the Aussie wasn’t the one Harper and Wells were trying to beat.
It was their fellow Team USA hurdler, media darling, Lolo Jones.
Jones, who was on her way to Olympic gold in Beijing until she smashed into the last hurdle, has been all the press has wanted to talk about in women’s track. This despite the fact that she qualified behind Harper and Wells to join Team USA.
Just the round-up of headlines on the women’s 100 meters reflects this:
Lolo Jones Barely Reaches Olympic 100 Hurdles Final (Huffington Post)
Jones misses glory in 100 hurdles (Sports Illustrated)
Lolo Jones Finishes Fourth In the 100-Meter Hurdles. Will It Silence Her Critics? (Slate.com)
Lolo Jones Can’t Win For Losing (FOX Sports)
Update: Lolo Jones finishes fourth in 100m finals (Des Moines Register)
Lolo Jones endures more pain after failing to medal in 100 hurdles (USA Today)
Lolo Jones fails to capture 100-meter hurdles medal (Associated Press)
For all the press Jones received, both before the London Olympics and after her fourth place finish, you’d think she was the one to beat in that race, but she wasn’t. She was the plucky underdog. Jones, for a myriad of reasons, wasn’t posting better times than her Beijing heartbreak. She was lucky just to make the squad, then to qualify for the final heat. It was always more about Harper versus Pearson – the two heavy-weights – with Pearson being the favorite to win.
This favoritism bred some obvious resentment as, in post-win interviews, Wells and Harper didn’t hide their true feelings about the media being “All Lolo All the Time.” Those who had the best shot at medaling in women’s hurdles had a legitimate gripe with the press and, even in some respect, their limelight-loving teammate. But in the end, the real culprit here is the media, big ratings, marketability, and the laziest form of colorism.
Lolo Jones is a talented hurdler. You have to be to qualify for an Olympic team twice, which Jones did in 2008 and 2012. But we’re dealing with some of the best athletes in the world who, in some respects, have dedicated their entire lives and the lives of their loved ones to the sport. Being good enough to get on the team isn’t necessarily what it takes to be good enough to win, and there were three hurdlers who simply ran a better race than her that night. But you can’t ignore the fact that so much of why the media made Lolo Jones its darling comes from its own tortured logic about women, sports, and race.
Jones is conventionally pretty, biracial, and very light complexioned in a sport that – in the U.S. at least – is dominated by African American women. And because, long ago, Madison Avenue decided black women of a brown-skinned or darker hue have a face only a bottle of syrup could love, they aren’t considered “marketable.” Oh sure, Dawn Harper has gorgeous skin and a magnetic smile. Of course Wells has that girl-next-door cuteness and pluck. But they’re both on the darker end of flesh tone spectrum. Hence, in the eyes of your advertising exec, unless their names are “Oprah” and “Winfrey,” they aren’t marketable.
The hard truth is that those who have the money – meaning your captains of media – are mostly white men. Most of the people who cover sports in the United States are white men. And when they choose who to cover and who not to cover, who to “make happen” and who to ignore, it’s purely about what is of interest to them.
What is of interest in them is a pretty girl (preferably white or as close as you can get to it) who can also do “sports.”
Read the rest of this story on Clutch Magazine.