As a general rule, I do not hold most professional athletes accountable for what they post on Facebook, twitter or tumbler about larger social events. In fact, I don’t often decry what athletes say in interviews either, they are paid to run or jump or swim, not deliver trenchant social commentary on the world around us. However, if a professional athlete continues to make rude or abrasive statements, unsolicited from the press or the public it might be time for them to finally step away from the microphone, computer or I-pad and think about the problems they are creating.
There is a romanticized myth about American professional athletes that is extremely difficult for most of them to escape. Either you are some gargantuan historic figure who has transcended sports and speaks on world events with the authority of Mustafa (think Arthur Ashe, Jim Brown, Billy Jean King or Jackie Robinson) or you’re a dumb entitled privileged child playing a game for millions you don’t deserve (think just about every other athlete reported on in an outlet outside of ESPN). The reality is, just like most people, the vast majority of professional athletes fall in the middle of these extremes. They give generously to charity and spent time with the troops or the disabled, but they aren’t changing the world in any significant transcendent way, nor are they dregs on society boozing it up and fighting with cops every other weekend. These are men and women paid to use their bodies in fantastic ways and their brains on very specific tasks. I no more expect sage wisdom on Darfur from Tom Brady than I expect a local cop to give me advice on my IRA and 401K plans.
Which brings us to Lolo Jones, who seems to have been angling for the role of the new millennium tragic mulatto for the last year and half. In case you had forgotten, Lolo Jones was heavily promoted by the hype machine of Madison Avenue in New York prior to the 2012 Olympic games because of her good looks, fascinating back story and oh-so-close bronze medal in the 2008 Olympic games in China. The problem was that Lolo was not expected to medal by any Track & Field analysts, but she had the promotions and endorsements that never went to her hurdling teammates, who actually…Won something. This was compounded by the fact that it was abundantly clear that her teammates weren’t fond of her holier than thou teasing Brittney Spears act and entitled attitude. Jones has been on a bit of a downward streak PR wise since the Olympics high-lighted in the last two weeks by two tweets that show both class, race and culture tone deafness.
First there was her tweeting of a picture of her paycheck from being on the U.S. bobsled team. The check was for about $700.00 and Jones tweeted a picture of it mocking how small her check was for all the work put into training and preparing for the team. Or at least that’s how she wanted it to be viewed. However other Olympians didn’t think it was so funny that Jones would publicly mock a salary so vital for so many athletes when she makes hundreds of thousands in endorsements. Of course that pales in comparison to her tweet during the much ballyhooed testimony of Rachel Jeantel during the George Zimmerman trial this past Thursday.
Jones Tweeted: 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. — Lolo Jones (@lolojones) June 27, 2013
This response got may people online up in arms for several understandable reasons. First, Jones appears to be making light of a murder trial of a young boy which is bound to raise some ire. More importantly associating Rachel Jeantel with Madea (Whom she looks, sounds and acted nothing like) smells like the kind of race and class profiling which had been heaped upon this young woman all week. This was not a good look for a woman whose personal brand and ethnic and cultural sensitivities have been in question for quite awhile. Jones has as much a right to comment on the trial as the next person, but she ought to know better than to say something so insensitive given that she is a public figure and is likely to get called out or worse damage her brand.
Athletes are people too, and they don’t always have the most enlightened of opinions (I’m sure Serena won’t speak on date rape ever again in public) on every subject. However, if you have made a name for yourself over the last year as a whining privileged athlete who’s got more gab and cash than game, it might be time for you to stay off social media commentary on societal issues. I’m sure Lolo didn’t mean any harm for her paycheck comments and I’m sure she thought she was being funny with her Zimmerman trial comments but she failed miserably at both. In this post Tiger, Lance and Tiki Barber age athletes have to watch out for their brands as much as the scoreboard. And if Lolo Jones isn’t careful she won’t have much to show in either category.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com on June 30, 2013.