The Saga Continues
It's only been a few days since the conclusion of the women's 100m hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics but the fires of controversy are still being fanned. I don't normally blog about sports, but I've read nothing from the 'fan's perspective" other than tweets. I've seen interviews of Dawn Harper, Kellie Wells, and Lolo Jones and just yesterday I read an article by Joanna Hayes that outlines the story going back in time prior to the Beijing games. I highly recommend you read Joanna's opinion piece because it gives some much needed context that you won't find in the coverage provided by the major media outlets.
If you watched NBC, read ESPN or Sports Illustrated, you'd be led to think that Dawn and Kellie have attacked Lolo for all of the media coverage she received due to her fall in Beijing or making the 2012 Olympic team by the skin of her teeth. But that's simply not the case. Take the time to go back and listen to what was said. Dawn and Kellie highlighted the facts that Dawn had a great story: rising out of East St Louis, recovery after pre-season surgery, working three jobs during training, running in borrowed shoes, not being the favorite in 2008, etc. Dawn went on to say that when THE MEDIA pushed her story aside, "that hurt". No attack on Lolo personally was ever hinted at. Even as Michelle Beadle attempted to re-direct Kellie and Dawn to comment on Lolo they continued to deflect and remind Beadle that they were there to talk about how they ran their own race. It seemed to go completely over Beadle's head as she was relentless and continued to infer their responses were aimed at Lolo instead of the media malpractice that they are trying to avoid. See the interview here.
Maybe this is when the fan's perspective can be more direct than people inside the world of track. I don't compete in the hurdles. It's highly doubtful that I will ever see any of these ladies (although that would be cool). I'll never face any political repercussions from the USATF. I'm sure you get the picture: I can be objective if I want. The way I see it, each entity has a part to play: the media, Lolo Jones, and Dawn Harper (and other competitors). In that order, here's what I think:
I don't fault the media for covering Lolo's story, giving her an interview now and then on a late night show, or putting her in their magazine issue to highlight the varying athletic body types. What I do fault the media for is completely ignoring Dawn when she won the gold in Beijing. It seems that they made little effort to research her story and find out the background information that makes her story as special as Lolo's. The sports reporters focused on Lolo's heartbreaking loss and built a story that made people believe (almost) that it was just bad luck, and that the hurdle unfairly kept Lolo from winning. As if it jumped up and grabbed her foot. The fact of the matter is that the favorite to win couldn't put all the pieces together in the Beijing final. It sounds cold and judging perhaps, but the results of that race testify to the reality of the situation. The media's glancing mention of Dawn's triumph and abilities to rise above not only the physical hurdles, but also the pressures of the Olympic finals were greatly overshadowed by the endless replays of Lolo knocking into the last two hurdles. Not only that, but when she returned to the states, Lolo was highlighted continually for the next four years. I don't believe I ever saw Dawn Harper, the Olympic Champion, get near as much attention as the Beijing favorite who failed to place. That's if you can find where she got any attention at all by the major media outlets.
Who's to blame for how the media covered the story? Certainly not Dawn or Kellie. But when they pointed out how the media mishandled the situation, NBC and others took the opportunity to paint the duo as throwing Lolo under the bus. More twisting and malpractice by those who should know better. But I guess journalistic integrity doesn't always sell magazines or get clicks on your website.
The only media outlet that seems to have pointed out that Lolo was receiving more coverage than Dawn and others was the New York Times in this article. I'll give them credit for that. I'm not saying I agree 100% with the New York Times, but at least we can say their recent coverage indicates that they haven't drank the "LOLO KOOLAID". To the rest of the lot, I say, "Shame on you sports writers!"
So what about Lolo herself? I don't believe Lolo can be blamed for the media swarm she's found herself facing for the last 4 years. She's been able to leverage the attention and sign endorsement deals, land spots on late night shows, and has even fanned some controversial attention-getting flames of her own when she claimed to still be a virgin in a recent interview. After the final race at the 2012 Olympics, Jones appeared quite disappointed and even sheds a few tears on The Today Show interview. Lolo speaks out about how she feels that New York Times mistreated her in their article (see above). She says they shouldn't do anything but support her because they are American and so is she. She says in the interview on NBC that the New York Times ripped her to shreds instead of supporting her. Reading between the lines it sounds like she wanted them to cheer her on and not report the facts that they put in their piece. Apparently she didn't want them to be objective or report the truth, just ignore it for a while or perhaps forever.
In all of the articles about Lolo that I've read or the TV interviews in the last 4 years, I've never heard Lolo ever talk about how Dawn put together a solid race, or that Dawn should be getting her share of attention from the media. I fault Lolo for this. Lolo is a member of a professional society of athletes. Her responsibilities do not just include her personal training, winning races, and seeking out endorsement deals. She has an obligation to the sport that she represents. So does every other member of her sport. The idea is that the sport is bigger than the athlete and they are responsible to leave the sport better than they found it. It makes sense to me that if I see the media mistreating a fellow athlete in their coverage of the event, I have an obligation to put them to the test and speak out about the issue. If one was to use Lolo's logic that the New York Times should support her because of a patriotic obligation, it would stand to reason that Lolo should support Dawn because of the same patriotic obligation. I think this application of patriotic support makes far more sense than applying it to a sports journalist that is supposed to be objective and not ignore or white wash facts to support an athlete from the same country. At the very least, being on the same team would mean that Lolo, Dawn, and Kellie should support each other. Obviously since Lolo hasn't take her opportunities in the past to give Dawn her dues, Kellie and Dawn probably don't trust that she would have their back this time and they decided take on the media themselves.
To Lolo I say, "You can do better."
Dawn Harper And The Rest Of The Field
To my knowledge, Dawn hasn't spoken about the mishandling of 2008 and the recent coverage until after the final. I think she was overdue to point out to the media that they didn't cover the 2008 Beijing final appropriately. It's obvious in Dawn's interviews that the issue isn't with Lolo, but the media and how they covered her story, journey, and triumphs. Kellie is new to the saga and voiced her opinions that the people who deserved to be on the podium were on the podium and that's who should be getting the spotlight. I don't understand why this is considered throwing Lolo under the bus, but again, I guess that's how the media makes their money. Creating controversy, telling stories that aren't there, and otherwise manipulating the players in the story.
I would tell Dawn and Kellie to hold the line. Keep on being classy and don't let yourselves get sucked into the tangled web that the media is spinning. Focus on performance and continue to reach out to Lolo as a member of team USA as you have the opportunity.
That's How I Think The Cookie Crumbles
So there you have it. That's what I think. I know because I'm just a fan there's probably aspects about the situation that I'm not privy to. If you're inside the sport and trying to make it bigger, maybe the perspective of a track and field fan will help you in your efforts to promote the sport. I'ld love to know what you think. Please comment below or reply to me on twitter, @RoshuaJogers.
If you're curious, I am a fan of all three of the 110m women's hurdlers in the Olympics this year. I'm not going to get into who were my favorites to medal. This blog was about the issues in question, not who my favs are. Congrats to Dawn and Kellie for medalling and good effort by Lolo.