Harris: Lolo Jones’ media dominance a disservice to track world

Lolo Jones and Christina Manning cross the finish line in the finals of women 100 meter hurdles. Jones finished third with a time of 12.86 and will compete in the London Olympic team. (Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Lolo Jones and Christina Manning cross the finish line in the finals of women 100 meter hurdles. Jones finished third with a time of 12.86 and will compete in the London Olympic team. (Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald)

Posted by Tyree Harris on Wednesday, Jun. 27 at 9:56 pm.

When returning Olympic gold medalist Dawn Harper crossed the finish line of the women’s 100-meter hurdles, she probably thought it was her moment. Her blazing time of 12.73 seconds made her, once again, the fastest female hurdler in America. She should be the face of women’s 100-meter hurdles.

But she’s not.

Across newspaper headlines, across the Twittersphere and across many of our minds, the story of the women’s hurdles isn’t Harper’s continued dominance, Harper’s return from an often career-eviscerating arthroscopic knee surgery or Harper’s odds of repeating her performance at the Beijing Olympics.

No, The story is media darling Lolo Jones eking out a London berth with a third-place finish (12.86) after just barely squeezing into the finals the day before.

It was Lolo — not Harper — who was a featured guest on the Jay Leno Show. It was Lolo — not Harper — who finds herself plastered all over across papers, TV screens and dorm room walls. At the press conference, the media was more interested in Lolo’s third-place finish than Harper’s victory. When asked if she felt underappreciated, according to ESPN’s Grantland, Harper responded, “definitely.”

If this were to be based solely on talent, solely on performance and what each athlete has to show for it, Harper would be — without question — the first thing that came to our minds when we think of women’s hurdles. But Lolo has a certain recipe that often supersedes talent and achievement in today’s Hollywood sport’s world.

Catchy, unforgettable nickname: From the first time you hear “Lo” and “lo” fuse together and become a name, it ingrains into your mind. Though her real name is Lori, the moniker “Lolo” has taken over her identity. We all love repeating those “Lo’s” (even if they are remnant of a Lil’ Jon track).

Public sex life (or lack thereof): Lolo’s documentary, shown on ESPN and HBO, gets into the details of her celibacy, and how she’s “had plenty of opportunities” to give up her virginity. Like Tim Tebow, her devout faith and public purity adds to her popularity — more so than her on-the-field performance (Side note: A headline on USA Today read, “Lolo Jones wants to invite Tim Tebow to church.” No, I’m not joking.)

Trials and tribulations: An impoverished upbringing, a failure to win gold at Beijing, a barely squeezing into the Olympics this year — Lolo’s got “underdog’s redemption story” tattooed all over her forehead.

And, sadly, good looks: Beautiful, hypnotizing eyes, silky, light brown skin and hair, Olympic-grade body — Lolo Jones is one of the most beautiful-looking women I’ve ever seen. And it’s no secret that her striking image is a huge part of her marketability and her fame.

But this one is the hardest to come to grips with, for me. Nowhere in men’s sports does good looks translate to money and fame quite like they do in women’s sports. In a world dominated by male fans, male reporters, male CEOs of sports agencies — all-male everything — a female athlete’s look can be the difference between unsung hero status and media superstar. Men don’t associate a man’s value with the way he looks (otherwise, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley would be bankrupt), but a man will typically pay a lot more attention to an athlete who they’d love to see in SI’s Swimsuit Edition.

Making the Lolo Joneses of the world more marketable than the Dawn Harpers is a disservice to the very meaning of women’s sports.

Make no mistake — Lolo is no scrub. A world-champion in the women’s 60-meter hurdles, boasting a 12.29 finish in the 100-meter hurdles in the ’08 Olympic Trials, Jones isn’t all media and no talent. But when an Olympic gold medalist as impressive as Harper leaves the podium and press conference feeling under the radar — even though she’s proven herself to be the best in America — something is terribly wrong. After all, track and field is supposed to be a world that judges its athletes not by the marketability of their brands but by the times that they finish.

  • Stan5688

    I was at the Leno taping. A lot of misrepresentation going on. Lolo came off as a real sweetie and the crowd loved her. She thanked the crowd leaving the set off camera and got a roar of applause and a lot of U S As. Qualifying? Who cares how as long as you get there. 
    She was well ahead of Harper when she tripped on the hurdle at Beijing, she’s the USA best since Devers and I’m sure I’m not the only person that would like to see her get the gold she deserves.

  • CoachEd

    Enough is enough already! Am I the only one tired of the hypocritcal hate against my girl, Lolo Jones? When she fell and practically gave the gold to Harper in 2008, there wasn’t an ounce of hate in heart; just humility. She never claimed to “deserve” a win. She never bad mouthed an opponent. And I loved her for it. Hell, the world loved her for it. Yes, she’s beautiful and I’m sure lover for that, too. But she is also charismatic, and most importantly HUMBLE. It’s not her fault she has all the characteristics of a media darling. For those athletes who are mad about it, I suggest you 1. stop being mad and start getting better at promoting your self. Wins are nice, but the fact is whining about a lack of media attention ultimately makes you a loser. Nobody likes a hater. And 2. keep winning. If you do that and win the big ones, and do it with grace, the same way Lolo lost it with grace, eventually appealling head lines will follow you, unlike this one.

  • Mike

    I would say 
    Dawn Harper is also very lucky to have Lolo as competition. Whether fair or not marketability is not always based on pure athleticism for men or woman athletes in my opinion. What I can say is that I would not have been interested or as interested in the 100 meter hurdles as I am now if it had not been for Lolo’s appearance on Leno. I would venture to say I am one of many that will now watch 100 meter hurdles. Fair or not I think Dawn now has a larger amount of people that will pay attention to her individual event. If she beats Lolo in the Olympics she will get attention.  

  • http://twitter.com/YoFrenchBREad Pepé Le YEAUX

    The hate against LOLO is uncalled. Track fans always want representation in media but when someone gets it they see them as unworthy. This goes on in other sports, for instance, Lebron James before getting a championship was pretty much everywhere without a championship and the like of anyone on the MAVs team did. The media loves some people story more then other. Deal with it people 

  • Kam

    your article is on point….!!!!!! excellent!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/KWX7J6VX5GYRZXGF2X52O2XT54 jelks

    I think the writer of the artical is telling the truth, nothing agaist LOLO, thats my girl. If people would take the time to really get to know Dawn they would see that Both of them are almost one in the same. The difference between the two is,,, When LoLo wins she explodes with joys as if she didnt expect to win, which brings more attention to herself. When Dawn wins, she acts as if she expected to.
    I personally know both of them and I super happy for them, all Im saying is,,, gave credit where credit is due.

  • Dankoch

    Let’s set the record straight. Dawn Harper did not win the Olympic hurdles in 2008! Lolo lost the race . Dawn is lucky to be an Olympic champion. Lolo is about charisma. Some athletes have it and some don’t. Knee surgery is not a “story”. Beating cancer (Lance Armstrong and others) is. If Dawn Harper wants to be a media darling she needs charisma and a compelling story.

    • Xlxramonesxlx

      So knee surgery for a runner is an easy thing to come back from…

    • 110hedgeNYC

      nonsense. the hurdles is not just about being fast, or being in the lead, it’s about executing a complete race and staying on one’s feet. Dawn Harper won the Olympic Gold in 2008 because she is a better technician than Lolo. Dawn earned it. She won. Lolo blew it technically, as she is prone to do because her technique and consistency, compared to many world class 100 meter hurdlers, is awful. 

  • http://www.hsi.net/ Emanuel Hudson

    very  telling …. thank you. 

  • http://twitter.com/golferdwayne Dwayne Carter

    Dude get over it. It’s not that serious.

  • http://twitter.com/golferdwayne Dwayne Carter

    The author is not different than those he criticizes. Instead of doing an interesting story on Dawn Harper, he attacks Lolo Jones popularity. Pot calling kettle black.

  • Track&FieldLOVER

    in the 2008 Oly’s Lolo was the faster over 9 hurdles, Dawn was the fastest over 10 and Dawn has run like a champion ever since. Congratulations Dawn!! Go Team USA!! 

  • Jay

    Look at the espn sports ticker the other day.  It mentioned that Lolo Jones qualified for the Olympics placing third in the hurdles, but made no mention of the woman who won the event, Dawn Harper.  Why the media tries to make Lolo Jones into some type of celebrity is beyond me.  They over rate her looks, yet force her into the spotlight based in big part on her alleged good looks, like she is the Halle Berry of Track and Field( a far cry from it)  I could care less, about her story and fake personality.  This is the same woman that found the need to immaturely talk about other female sprinters on twitter.  If Lolo Jones had a darker skin tone they wouldn’t even keep putting her in the spotlight.

  • Jay

    “Lolo Jones

    carmelita jeter ran so fast im surprised her fake eyelashes didnt blow off . ‪#preclassic‬ ‪#nbc‬ “

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NEWJLSUJHZ7HJWDX4AVGOAJSVM Jack

    lolo might be a virgin, but I bet she goes solo a heck of alot :-)

  • Cal

    Why not be a part of the solution, and comment on what you want to see since you are a part of the journalists you are complaining about?  Write about your darling Dawn, and ignore Lolo – that won’t hurt anyone.  Why are you are so bitter?  I just don’t understand the vitriol.  People love stories in sports, and when someone misses an opportunity, and gets the change to get it back, it gets written about.  It took a lot of work to get back to this point, and waaa, it go talked about more than you want.  Get over it.  It is pretty freaking amazing to fall in an olympic final, and work for 4 years to come back and get into the olympics again.  If her great attitude is a part of it that has something to do with it too.  Oh yeah and gee, is there some anti-faith and God interlaced in your writing?  You don’t hide it very well.

  • http://twitter.com/StairClimbLoon Stair ClimbLunatic

    Such is the world we live in.  You, in the media, are just as much a part of this phenomenon as anyone else.

  • brent

    no one likes a hater tyree, suggest you get a little class and write a litle less opinionated, it comes off as tasteless and im kind of embarrassed for you after reading this to be honest…so lolo is hotter and has a better personality then harper making her more marketable…deal with it

    • Tyree Harris

      Sorry, Brent. I’ll try to be less opinionated in my next column …

      Telling a columnist not to be opinionated is like telling an athlete not to be athletic.

      • Brent

        well dude have a little common sense, her story is amazing, people tend to latch on to amazing stories and root for those athletes, we see it happen all the time and it is what makes athletics so fun to watch….but then you have people like you who try to bash those athletes by writing bogus articles and expect everyone to jump on your little band wagon, its pathetic. go write about dawn if you want to see her get more press dont write little 5th grade essays about why we should all stop liking lolo, it has zero taste and for someone in your position you should actually be ashamed of yourself

        • Wuuuuuuut?!

           Hahaha…Brent, you so funny!

  • lady_z

    Here’s another angle to consider — winning one high profile race does not make an athlete the best in that discipline.  Especially in hurdles when a mishap on the hurdles in one race can slow even the world’s best hurdlers.  A better look at a T&F athletes performance is their world rank, which takes into account performance over the entire competitive T&F season.  Dawn won the Olympic Gold in 2008, and although she’s been very good she has not been the dominant U.S. hurdler during her pro career.  Look at the following world rankings of American hurdlers since Dawn turned professional in 2006:

    #1  Michelle Perry
    #3 Damu Cherry
    #5 Ginnie Crawford
    #7 Lolo Jones
    #9 Jenny Adams
    —  Dawn Harper not ranked

    #1  Michelle Perry
    #5  Ginnie Crawford
    #6  Lolo Jones
    —  Dawn Harper not ranked

    #1  Lolo Jones
    #3  Dawn Harper
    #8  Damu Cherry
    #9  Joanna Hayes

    #2  Dawn Harper
    #7  Damu Cherry
    #8  Michelle Perry
    #9  Ginnie Crawford
    #10  Lolo Jones

    #3  Lolo Jones
    #5  Damu Cherry
    #7  Queen Harrison
    #8  Ginnie Crawford
    #9  Danielle Carruthers
    — Dawn Harper not ranked

    #2  Danielle Carruthers
    #3  Dawn Harper
    #4  Kellie Wells
    #6  Ginnie Crawford
    #7  Nia Ali
    #8  Yvette Lewis

    So objectively, since Dawn turned professional in 2006, she’s only been the highest ranked American hurdler in 1 out of 6 years, she hasn’t cracked the top 10 in 3 out of 6 years, she’s only been ranked higher than Lolo in 2 out of 6 years, and she’s never been ranked #1 in the world (Michelle Perry has been 3 times, Lolo Jones has been 1 time).  She’s good, but not dominant like Gail Devers or Edwin Moses was. 

    Just a different take, but maybe Dawn is just one of many very good hurdlers the U.S. has.       

  • Ksmith

    Why isn’t anyone talking about the mean remarks made by Dawn and Kellie in their post win interview? If they are so secure in themselves why do they need to comment AT ALL on the divisions on their team. They presented themselves as unprofessional, making caddy remarks about another girl. They could have been secure enough in themselves  to let it go. They embarassed the US by their mean spirited comments. I don’t have anything to say about Lola. Dawn and Kellie embarassed themselves when at the peak of their track carreer, they were caddy, mean and small. To rejoice in your win is not to do so at the expense of another.