Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 8/6/12
It's not Lolo Jones' fault that we want a beautiful virgin to cheer for. So why is anyone upset with her about that? It's true that Jones and her endorsers have been a little too obvious about building an image. We don't want to feel manipulated. So some people have had enough of Jones, and the months of Jones buildup leading into the Olympics. On Monday, she won her first heat in the 100-meter hurdles. When Jamaican Brigitte Foster-Hylton clipped a hurdle and was eliminated, Jones tried to console her, but Foster-Hylton seemed to throw herself to the ground. "You know, honestly, emotions were just outpouring from her,'' Jones said. "Even if she would've punched me, I totally would understand.'' It feels as if a lot of people are taking their punches at Jones now. She starts the London Games not on the publicity high she was on months ago, when she tweeted that she was a virgin and spoke about it on HBO. Mostly, public feelings are positive about her, but now there is an unmistakable anti-Jones undercurrent, a backlash from critics and athletes. I do get that Jones is self-promoting all the time. What I don't get is why that bothers people. Sexism? Jealousy? American Dawn Harper is tired of Jones. When Jones was about to win gold at the Beijing Olympics, she tripped over the ninth hurdle. So close, but it wasn't a fluke as everyone portrays it. She was over-striding and out of control, and it got worse as she went along. She finished seventh and then dropped to the track. Harper actually won that race. She also won the US Olympic trials in June, with Jones getting onto Team USA, barely, by finishing third. A few days later, Jones was on TV with Jay Leno. To the third-place victor goes the spoils. After winning the trials, Harper acknowledged that she felt under-appreciated for a gold medalist, with all the attention going to Jones. Meanwhile, Jones told Time Magazine that she senses other runners resenting her. She also was heavily criticized for Tweeting: "USA Men's Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that's ok, we are Americans . . . When's da Gun shooting competition?'' It was seen as having fun with American gun culture, only days after the shooting in a Denver-area movie theater. The Jones backlash turned that into a bigger deal than it needed to be. And the New York Times wrote a harsh piece about her Sunday, which also happened to be her birthday, saying that her big publicity is a sellout, based on sex appeal and not athletic success. The column suggested that Jones was willing to sell herself any way endorsers want, as "vixen, virgin, victim.'' The story even quoted an Olympics studies expert saying that the Jones campaign is reminiscent of the Anna Kournikova disaster. Right. Kournikova is always the example of someone who sold sex appeal. She is always the cautionary tale that supposedly undermines women athletes. If you don't know, here is Kournikova's story: She once told Tennis Magazine that the apartment she lived in when she was young was 6-by-9 meters. In a sport where people think you have to be rich to succeed, she made it to the top 10 in the world, anyway. She was one of the hardest-working players, reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon. And she was beautiful. When she was offered big money for photo shoots, magazine covers, appearances, this woman with her backround had the nerve to . . . take the money. So yes there are similarities between Kournikova and Jones. At one point, Jones lived in the basement of a Salvation Army and shoplifted for food. Any parent knows the costs involved in raising athletes. Somehow, Jones got all the way to the Olympics. Twice. She also won two indoor world hurdles championships. And now, just like Kournikova, she has marketed herself so well that when she retires from track -- and she's already 30 -- she'll have prospects. The truth is, she's the model that Olympic athletes should try to follow. Take your moment and capitalize. The problem isn't Jones. If there's a problem at all, it's the status of women's sports in general. The truth is that a lot of men watch women's sports to see beautiful young women compete. Others watch for the sport of it. Jones is selling perfectly to both of them. I understand where Harper is coming from. She wins gold and the talk is about Jones barely losing. Harper wins the trials, and the story is that Jones barely made the team. Harper is from East St. Louis, an interesting backstory. Harper needs to lean on her agent. For now, Jones has nearly 250,000 Twitter followers to build her brand, and Johnson just more than 3,000. Jones has all the endorsement deals, too. At Beijing, US gymnast Nastia Liukin won gold and Shawn Johnson silver. But Johnson, through promotion, arrived as the star and left the same way. Her handlers recently told the Des Moines Register than during the games, they were already working on getting Johnson onto "Dancing with the Stars.'' The New York Times criticized Jones for appearing nude, tastefully, in the ESPN the Magazine body issue. That issue is about athletic form. She also appeared in a swimsuit on another magazine cover. Look, there was nothing wrong with those photos, nothing hypocritical about them. And Jones has had plenty of success in her sport; she is not Danica Patrick. Jones has found the balance between selling sport and sex appeal. She is always selling, but that's OK. No matter what happens in London, she will leave with her dignity, two Olympic appearances and a future.
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