Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Hard Sell

In case you missed it: Lolo Jones had a bit of a Twitter gaffe last week.

I don't think Miss Jones is as insensitive as this incident may, at first glance, make her appear to be. But I do find two things troubling about the tweet.

1. The tone of her response.

Jones' excuse for her bawdy reply—she was reacting to being "challenged" by an athlete—is telling. And it's an indictment of us, as a voyeuristic society. After all, we created her.

Lolo Jones isn't a slacker. She holds the US record in the 60M hurdles. She's qualified for the Summer Olympics twice. She has won NCAA championships. And she's won many lesser-known races that sound like background noise to those of us who only remember once every four years that track and field exists. But in the whole wide world of sports, hurdles are the equivalent of Denmark. The average person on an American street knows hurdling exists, but good luck getting them to point it out on a map.

In the U.S., popularity and glory as an athlete traditionally come from winning on your sport's biggest stage. This is especially true when you compete in a more obscure sport, like hurdling. For a track and field athlete, that stage is the Summer Olympics. At the very least, you should be dominant in the lead-up events. But Lolo Jones has never won at the Olympics; she barely qualified for the 2012 games, finishing third in the trials. She came home from London with a fourth-place pat on the back. There are hundreds of also-rans every four years; each is an impressive athlete in his or her own right. But being an impressive athlete doesn't get you booked to appear on The Tonight Show.

No, Jones' popularity—the very reason she's receiving tweets from Eric LeGrand, why her flub is getting attention, and why I'm even writing this blog—is all based on her looks. Many consider her to be a very attractive woman, and the result has been magazines, TV, and the internet placing her on a pedestal. She's been compared to Anna Kournikova, which she says is unfair. I agree, but not for the same reason that she cites*.

[*Note: I've had many a heated debate with TJ and Jay Swag over this, but I simply do not find Jones to be hot. I'm not saying that she's ugly, not by any means. But if you were to name five hundred famous women and task me with ranking them based on attractiveness—#1 being the hottest—Jones is in the 20th percentile. The irony of the Kournikova comparison is that Kournikova is legitimately hot—90th-percentile-hot.]

To help bolster this superficial fame, Jones has very smartly crafted an image that is designed to maximize her "assets". She's taken to being flamboyant on Twitter, displaying a playful ego that seems to be as much a result of her popularity as a tool for increasing it. She's appeared on Leno, and in countless magazines and news articles. And, most notably, she has "come out" as being a virgin. I don't parenthesize this because I think a virgin doesn't face embarrassment and/or negative attention by going public with such an admission; I do it because I don't believe she's a virgin. (Call me the E of the crew; I'm fine with it—he ended up with Emmanuelle Chriqui.) In fact, instead of comparing Jones to Anna Kournikova, the more fitting comparison is actually Tim Tebow:
  • Both were very successful as SEC athletes (Jones went to LSU) but have only found moderate success as pros (at best).
  • Both proclaim their virginity, despite being very successful SEC athletes (I mean, come on...I'd be much less surprised if they boned each other in college than I would if either was abstinent).
  • Both are media-darling athletes who, although considered by many to be attractive, I would not have sex with. (Sorry Tim.)

2. Why was she so unaware of who had tweeted her?

To a large extent, Jones was done in by the very Twitter presence she has cultivated. Quick wit wins followers, but slow-and-steady wins the race (which, for someone who competes in sprints, may not be the easiest concept to comprehend). The reality is that she was all-too-eager to not only respond to LeGrand’s question, but to do so publicly; she just as easily could have sent him a DM, or addressed her reply so that only people who follow both of them would have seen it. If Jones doesn’t have someone with social media expertise in her management team, she should hire one by the end of this sentence (I’m sure my girl at Socialminded Media Group can help her out).

Jones wants to blame LeGrand’s profile information for misleading her; that’s a bit like blaming the gun in your hand for putting a hole in your foot. If she took the time to look at his profile before responding, and if she didn’t recognize him after doing so, then why did her research stop there? The truly sound strategy would have been to see that he’s “verified”—which assures you that he’s someone of public note—and to do a quick Google search on his name. The tactic (some might call it common sense) might have cost her another 90 seconds of time, but would surely have saved her untold amounts of embarrassment.


Jones has milked her celebrity standing out of the public’s attraction to her. It’s a fleeting “It Girl” status that belies her actual accomplishments as an athlete. And, in truth, it’s hard to fault her for doing so. She didn’t ask to be judged purely on her looks; but if we as a society are going to do it anyway, she might as well profit from it while she can. Nevertheless, if she’s going to play the role of a superstar sports personality, she needs to learn to handle herself while in the public eye. Any intern at a public relations firm can tell you that discretion is key if you’re going to successfully market your brand. That's especially true in Lolo's case, since marketing will be all she’ll have to keep her brand relevant until Rio in 2016.

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