Olympics 2012: Lolo Jones Criticism Draws Tears and New York Times Rebukes (Analysis)

Lolo Jones Hurdles Olympics - H 2012
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Lolo Jones Hurdles Olympics - H 2012

Even before a disappointing performance in London, Jones had a bevy of critics; a failure to medal sparked a national debate.

Lolo Jones didn't earn a track and field medal in London, but she sparked a conversation far more serious than anything Ryan Lochte has provided.

A 30-year-old U.S. hurdler, Jones for the past four years has drawn a bevy of cameras and writers her way, covering Time, Rolling Stone, posing semi-nude for ESPN the Magazine and providing tabloids with opportunities to link her with Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. That has drawn a bevy of critics, including The New York Times' Jere Longman, who wrote that 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."

During an appearance Wednesday on NBC's Today, Jones broke into tears in response to all the negative ink. "Putting your heart out there, it opens you up to a lot of negativity," she said. "I think it's a shame I have to deal with so much backlash."

On Thursday, the Times' public editor Arthur Brisbane criticized Longman for being "particularly harsh, even unnecessarily so."

"This piece struck me as quite harsh," Brisbane wrote, "and left me, along with others, wondering why the tone was so strong."

How, exactly, should an Olympic athlete be judged when not on their chosen surface of play? Is it wrong to criticize them for earning media attention? Her own teammates aired grievances over the attention, as Dawn Harper, who won a silver in the 100-meter hurdles final in which Jones finished fourth, said: “I feel like I kind of shut some people up. You’ve got to talk about Dawn a little bit. Sprinkle me in that conversation of the 100 hurdles.”

Harper, perhaps inadvertently, made a critical point: is it the journalist's fault, or the athlete's?

Certainly, athletes like Michael Phelps, who set world records and take home medals, will be lauded. But whether it's fair to pick on those who lose is another question; whether it's fair in the context of celebrity is yet another.