Thursday for Clutch Magazine Online I take on how Madison Avenue, in their continuing quest to sell flavored sugar water and tennis shoes, "made" Lolo Jones happen to the detriment of both Jones and her fellow hurdlers, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, on Team USA.
Jones, while a talented hurdler, was never the favorite to win gold in a race that was always going to be about defending Beijing gold medalist Harper and eventually 2012 gold winner Sally Pearson of Australia, but advertising execs had already decided long ago hyping Lolo was where money could be made. Sure, it would have been a great narrative if she redeemed herself after clipping the last hurdle in Beijing, losing her lead, but either way Madison Avenue got their star and the media got their narrative -- an attractive female runner to love then hate then talk about it endlessly.
All in an effort to sell you stuff.
Here's a snippet:
Lolo Jones is a talented hurdler. You have to be to qualify for an Olympic team twice, which Jones did in 2008 and 2012. But we’re dealing with some of the best athletes in the world who, in some respects, have dedicated their entire lives and the lives of their loved ones to the sport. Being good enough to get on the team isn’t necessarily what it takes to be good enough to win, and there were three hurdlers who simply ran a better race than her that night. But you can’t ignore the fact that so much of why the media made Lolo Jones its darling comes from its own tortured logic about women, sports, and race.
Jones is conventionally pretty, biracial, and very light complexioned in a sport that – in the US at least – is dominated by African American women. And because, long ago, Madison Avenue decided black women of a brown-skinned or darker hue have a face only a bottle of syrup could love, they aren’t considered “marketable.” Oh sure, Dawn Harper has gorgeous skin and a magnetic smile. Of course Wells has that girl-next-door cuteness and pluck. But they’re both on the darker end of flesh tone spectrum. Hence, in the eyes of your advertising exec, unless their names are “Oprah” and “Winfrey,” they aren’t marketable.
The hard truth is that those who have the money – meaning your captains of media – are mostly white men. Most of the people who cover sports in the United States are white men. And when they choose who to cover and who not to cover, who to “make happen” and who to ignore, it’s purely about what is of interest to them.