In Defense of Lolo Jones and a Challenge to Gutless Journalists

I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to be a journalist for a living.

I swore I wouldn’t use this blog to rant (at least not right away) about non-strength and conditioning issues, but a few things frustrated me so deeply that I couldn’t help myself so here it goes…

A friend of mine recently moved to Boston and tweeted about a fan on the radio blasting Dustin Pedroia for “not trying.” As a life-long Red Sox fan, I’ll be the first to admit that Boston fans can be a bit delusional, but I couldn’t help but get a bit pissed off.

As a baseball player, I idolized Pedroia and modeled my game after him. Even as the smallest position player in the game, the second baseman swung his way to 2007 American League Rookie of the Year and 2008 AL MVP honors while winning a 2007 World Series ring. He’s as scrappy as they come and has put all the haters who said he was too small in their respective places with feet in mouths.

The jab at Pedroia brought my attention to an even larger-scale injustice, this time at the expense of U.S. hurdler Lolo Jones.

Jones narrowly missed winning a medal in the 100-meter hurdles last week, finishing 0.10 seconds behind the bronze medalist and completing a storybook comeback after a devastating spinal injury sidelined Jones for much of the 2009 season and hamstring issues shelved her in 2011.

Overcoming these injuries was nothing compared to surviving 18 years of homelessness and uncertainty as a child. Or working three jobs at once after college to fund her training and dreams of becoming an Olympian.

I’m usually not one to get sappy over a rags-to-riches story about an athlete, but Jones’ story resonated with me. So naturally, I was pretty pissed when I heard about a tough guy with a keyboard at the New York Times who viciously trashed Jones for her performance in London AND her image in the media.

Jeré Longman lashed out at Jones, writing that all the attention Jones gets “was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.” Not on achievement? The woman has a pair of World Indoor Championship victories under her belt and missed a spot on a London podium by a tenth of a second. I’m sorry Jones’ achievements aren’t impressive enough for you, Mr. Longman.

It’s tough to have a problem with Lolo Jones’ public image when it looks this good.

Longman goes on to rake Jones over the coals for her well-publicized sex appeal, having posed semi-nude for ESPN the Magazine and Outside magazine (ESPN’s annual “Body Issue” features many semi-nude athletes – not just one, mind you.) He criticized the hurdler for her outspokenness in the media about being a 30-year-old virgin. Maybe it’s cheesy and maybe it’s a publicity stunt, but Jones just doesn’t seem like a worthy target of scorn with all the womanizing, domestic abuse and scandal in professional and collegiate athletics (and most recently the Olympics).

My question to Longman is this: WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?

I know, I know. You’re a best-selling author. You write well about stuff that other people did. That’s what journalists do. I get it. I paid a lot of money for people to teach me how to do that for four years. What I mean is who are you to judge Jones when you do not know her, have not been in her position and (to my knowledge) didn’t even interview her?

I do not know Jones personally and I don’t think she (or any other athlete) is infallible and should be judged solely on athletic achievement. But such baseless criticism and journalistic bullying is all too common in this world. Too often writers use their medium as a launching pad for jealousy and shit-stirring. It’s what drove me out of the journalism field initially and it’s what makes me wary of diving back into it.

The same goes for all the debate on TV and in the papers over athletes like Tim Tebow, LeBron James and Bryce Harper. They’re all very polarizing figures with quirks that don’t sit well for some people. But Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith have inspired a generation of tireless critics who run their mouths endlessly despite the fact they’ll never have a fraction of the motivation, passion or courage to achieve a tenth of what the aforementioned athletes have.

I guess you could say writing this post goes completely against what I’m preaching. I’m criticizing the critic, hating the hater. And I guess you could say having this blog begs the same question I asked Longman – who the hell am I? Well, that’s why I hesitated to start a blog for so long. I wanted to make sure I had enough experience under my belt (which keep in mind isn’t much in the grand scheme of things) to actually help people through my writing. There are far too many “coaches” and “trainers” giving bad advice out there. I wanted to make sure I had the chops to not be one of them.

i guess you can give lousy fitness advice even if you’re a 4-time olympic medalist.

In high school, I worked for my local newspaper, a tiny publication with a daily circulation of about 5,000 copies. I covered high school sports and loved almost every second of it. What I didn’t like was going into the office and filing my stories surrounded by all the miserable, grouchy reporters and editors. Most of the staff hated their jobs and it shined through in their writing. I thought maybe it was just a symptom of working a low-pay, high stress job in a tiny New England town.

But a few years later when I interned for the state’s biggest newspaper, I found the same thing – ornery, judgmental writers who were quick to damn and slow to admit when they’re wrong. Even the collegiate sports information world (where I’ve made my living the past two years) is littered with bitter has-been’s and never-were’s.

This is a gross (and probably unfair) generalization of journalists everywhere, but the trend has been astonishingly strong in my infantile experience. I don’t get the need to publicly tear people down for their accomplishments. It’s born out of nothing but jealousy and insecurity. I’ve been there. I spent many years of my young life loathing anyone who was smarter, stronger, better-looking or more popular than me. I’d try to tear them down in my head, find faults in them to even the playing field in my mind.

That kind of thinking is poisonous. Negativity is contagious and sucks the life out of you. It’s a waste of time and energy that could be spent bettering yourself. Jones got pretty emotional in a recent interview on NBC’s “Today” show when asked about Longman’s article, but I’m guessing she didn’t spend too much time the past few years dwelling on the naysayers and hating all the hurdlers who crossed the finish line first.

Like all successful people, I am positive Jones used all the hate to fuel the fire that brought her inches away from an Olympic medal.

My point is that there is a place for criticism and when others hold us accountable, it helps us be better people. But when journalists morph from watchdogs to whiners, that’s where I take issue.

Here’s my challenge to journalists like Longman: why not HELP people with your writing instead of simply trying to entertain (or fill up column inches)? Writing can be informative and entertaining at the same time. If you’re good.

Where this relates to fitness/strength and conditioning (you knew I was gonna get here eventually – thanks for sticking with me) is that the internet has opened up an extremely convenient canvas for negative punks of all shapes and sizes to paint their hate all over anyone who’s got a voice or opinion. Here are a few examples of how the internet works…

  • Post weight loss progress pictures. Haters: “U r fat. LOL!”
  • Post mass gain progress pictures. Haters: “Roidz.”
  • Make YouTube video of squat PR. Haters: “That was sky high, bro.”
  • Write a post about (insert popular fitness program here). Haters: “That program sucks. The ONLY way to (insert fitness goal here) is to use (insert other popular fitness program here). And if you don’t agree Jesus doesn’t love you.”

Hence while I’ll never use an online message board again.

If you take anything away from this rant, let it be this: spend less time on the internet, watching TV and reading the papers, and more time pursuing your goals and surrounding yourself with positive, like-minded people. Speak seldom and softly about the actions and accomplishments of others. Let your actions do the talking. Chase your dreams with relentless enthusiasm. That way, when you do spout criticism, you’ll have actually done something to back up your words and maybe your opinion will matter.

So how’s the view from your Manhattan office, Jeré Longman, looking down on the rest of the world from your throne? I bet the view’s not as good as the one from the finish line, even if it’s in fourth place.

Do you agree? Disagree? Did I hurt your feelings? Let me know! Leave a comment below and spread the word.

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