The Olympics have seen the highs and lows of U.S. media’s portrayal of its athletes. Particularly, African American women have received the brunt of its criticism.
U.S. athletes Gabby Douglas and Lolo Jones have received much extended news coverage that have opted to disparage them rather than uplift.
Mainstream U.S. publications dedicated much energy to a trending Twitter topic on Douglas’ hair.
Douglas was shocked to learn upon Googling her name that many news sources were not discussing her gold medal performance but her hair.
Douglas won gold medals in both the individual and team all-around competitions. The 16-year-old Virginia Beach native became the first African American woman to win an Olympic all-around title and fourth American woman to do so.
Douglas told The Associated Press she doesn’t know where all the hoopla about her hair is coming from.
“What’s wrong with my hair,” she said in an interview with AP. “I’m like, “I just made history and people are focused on my hair?’ It can be bald or short, it doesn’t matter about (my) hair.”
The hair backlash may have had an effect on Douglas’ Olympic performance. The 16-year-old gymnast phenom failed to medal in her final two events in the uneven bar and beam competition.
The media’s treatment of the country’s athletes didn’t ease up when it came to track and field Olympian Lolo Jones, the world record holder in 60m hurdles with a time of 7.72.
New York Times write Jeré Longman found it in good taste to bring negative attention to Jones two days before her Hurdles finals competition.
Longman wrote Jones earned her endorsement through her sex appeal, not talent.
“Jones has received far greater publicity than other American track and field athlete competing in the London Games,” he wrote. “This was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign.”
Essentially, he continued, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be- vixen, virgin, victim- to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.
Not a piece an athlete would expect from a “home” publication as they’re representing their country in the Olympic games.
Jones placed fourth in the competition failing to medal by one tenth of a second. Australian athlete Sally Pearson captured the gold medal in an Olympic record time of 12.35 seconds. Dawn Harper finished with a silver medal in 12.37 seconds. Kellie Wells earned bronze in 12.48.
Jones was personally affected by her portrayal in the media. She appeared on NBC’s The Today Show and broke down in tears while explaining the criticism she received from American publications.
“I think it’s crazy because it was two days before I competed,” she said. “And then the fact that it was from a U.S. media like, I mean, they should be supporting our U.S. Olympic athletes and instead they just ripped me to shreds. I just thought that was crazy because I work six days a week every day for four years for a 12 second race and the fact they just tore me a part is just heartbreaking. They didn’t even their research.”
Jones said she “laid it all out there” on the track.
“I fought hard for my country,” she said. “It’s just a shame I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted.”
Though she didn’t medal, Jones said she hopes her story and struggle can reach a “little girl” who may not think she can be an Olympic athlete.
“I wasn’t even supposed to make the Olympic team,” she said. “The U.S. Olympic team counted me out. I made the team. Then they’re like she’s not even going to make the final. I made the final. I went from eighth place to the fourth place. I just really hope that my story will give somebody hope.”
“Yeah, I didn’t walk away with the medal,” she said. “But I think there are lessons to be learned when you win and there are lessons to be learned when you lose.”
Did U.S. Media Cause African-American Female Olympians to Lose Focus?
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