No Harm, No Foul


by Ashley Murphy

Professional athletes are often scrutinized in the media for commenting on current events, breaking news headlines, and pop culture. Their opinions are ones average, everyday citizens may have in common yet their public persona tends to generate controversy in the media more often. Why do we place Olympic and professional athletes on a pedestal of perfection only to ridicule them publicly when they make statements we may or may not agree with in social media? The cliché, “to whom much is given, much is required” is the answer to this perplexing question.

Pro athletes do not have lives like you and I. They are making millions of dollars playing a sport that several of us look up to and admire. They are being paid based on their athletic ability, public appearances, and interviews. The league they work for and their endorsers expect them to be professional at all times, which is even a requirement of those employed in the corporate world. The main difference is these athletes are constantly in the public eye, making it easier for a slip of the tongue to offend non-profit organizations and industries worldwide. With one wrong tweet or status update, professional athletes can lose contracts and endorsements with companies like Reebok, Adidas, Nike, or Gatorade.

Lolo Jones is a perfect example of an Olympic athlete who often gets carried away with social media. She is an Olympic athlete who manages to stir up controversy in the public eye and is often scrutinized for her Twittercommentary rather than praised for her athletic accomplishments. Where shall I begin? Let’s start with her Twitter remark she made in October of 2012 when she challenged another athlete to a race waging a light hearted bet of $40,000. Her challenging wager was like the notorious line from the film The Godfather: “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse”, leaving fans questioning who the real Lolo Jones is.

To add fuel to the fire, her ‘Las Vegas style’ betting skills were not only the focus of controversy. What was astonishing was she challenged Eric LeGrand to a race, who is now confined to a wheelchair. Eric LeGrand, a retired football player, suffered a spinal cord injury in a Rutgers versus Navy game which paralyzed him in 2010. LeGrand tweeted Jones in a playful manner asking Jones to race him, which to Jones’ defense she quickly responded without knowing the football player’s incredible story of recovery. Jones tweeted in reply, “Get checked for a concussion. Clearly, u’ve been hit in the head… cos u arn’t beating a track athlete.” Fans became outraged at her seemingly insensitive tweet and also responded with disdain. Ryan Hudson of SB Nation hissed, “There’s no reason to get too upset, because it was a lowest common denominator joke, made by a lowest common denominator person.”

As an Olympic athlete, surely she should have known of LeGrand’s injury since he was featured in Sports Illustrated Magazine and was honored at the Espy awards. However, Jones publicly made a mistake we all could have made in a moment of passion that potentially derailed her career or at least made people highly dislike her. Then there is the recent controversy with Jones’ Twitter response to Rachel Jeantel’s testimony in the Trayvon Martin trial. 8 months later after making headlines for abruptly commenting on Twitter, she repeats offensive remarks without any regard to the Martin family. Making more lighthearted banter Jones blurts out, “Rachel Jeantel looked so irritated during the cross-examination that I burned it on DVD and I’m going to sell it as Madea goes to court.”

As playful as her tweet may have been it did not go over well with her 300 thousand followers who struck back calling her “classless” and “privileged”. The troubling fact is that she is still determined to tweet at leisure without taking responsibility for her actions. How an Olympian can go from the most adored to the most hated merely from a few tweets is mind boggling to me.

Jones was an Olympic hopeful to medal in the 2012 London Olympic Games although she fell short placing 4th in the 100m hurdles. Her inspiration to return to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro is a story that should outshine any negative one in the news. Despite her infectious smile and jovial personality, she manages to become the center of negative attention that overshadows her talent. Social media may be to blame for her troubles, although Jones has contributed to destroying her image by posting daily updates on Twitter and Facebook.

Her recent alleged bar brawl has made her the subject of an FBI investigation that can be attributed to her recklessness and previous history of backlash in the news. Through all of the turmoil, hateful messages, disgruntled remarks and police reports Lolo Jones manages to do what we all continue to do in order to keep up with trending conversation. She tweets to her followers in 140 characters or less: “I don’t have a ‘Hater’s list’. I have a forgiveness one.” To Lolo Jones’ defense, indeed forgiveness is a great list to have.