Rabalais: N.Y. Times columnist wrong on Jones

Time Out

Sad and cynical. That’s how New York Times sportswriter Jeré Longman acidly described the marketing campaign that has sold Olympic and former LSU hurdler Lolo Jones to the world the past few years.

Nowhere near as sad and cynical as Longman’s opinion piece in Sunday’s Times on Jones and a career he has deemed to be far too much style and far too little substance.

In doing so, Longman decided in the saddest of Olympic traditions to give a Tonya Harding-like bash to Jones in her run up to Wednesday’s 100-meter hurdles final in the London Olympics.

In the journalistic equivalent of an all-revealing post-race drug test let me say that Jeré Longman, who incidentally is a native of Eunice, is someone I consider a friend. Certainly at least a colleague. And as a journalist I feel compelled to defend everyone’s right to free speech, even if that right seems to have been used in the wrong way.

But as a human being, I also feel compelled to speak out when someone has crossed the line of fair criticism and veered off course into some sort of shark attack with words.

Longman slammed Jones for being on the receiving end of publicity and notoriety that far outstrips her accomplishments. He accuses her of trading on her beauty and her backstory of childhood hardships to bolster her chameleonesque marketability as a “vixen, virgin or victim” despite her dearth of Olympic medals.

As if to confirm Longman as a prophet Jones went out and finished fourth in her event, four years after crashing into the second-to-last hurdle in Beijing when she was the gold medal favorite and had that title in her grasp with mere meters to go.

If you want to say Jones has been more flash than winning dash when it comes to the Olympics, that’s fair. But it’s also fair to say that Jones is still the American record holder in the women’s 100 hurdles, that she’s a two-time world champion in the 60-meter indoor hurdles, and that she ran in London only a year after having spinal surgery. Longman wrote about none of those things.

Spinal surgery, Jeré. Not cosmetic surgery to further enhance her “exotic looks” as you put it. But surgery on the part of the body that determines whether we can stand and walk, much less run like an Olympian.

Yes, Jones has cashed in on her talents. All of them. Who wouldn’t do the same? Longman has authored numerous books, among them one on the South Plaquemines High football team in its first season after Hurricane Katrina. The back cover describes him as a New York Times writer.

Why is that description there? Because the more impressed you are with the writer, the more compelled you might be to buy his book. We all use what we’ve got to get ahead.

Ironically, what Longman’s piece has done for Jones is the thing he bashes the most. It’s made her the most talked-about fourth-place finisher in the London Games, and even more popular here in Louisiana.

More popular than a certain writer from Louisiana, anyway.