It’s that simple.
Over the past week, major media outlets and the social media critics have unfairly attacked–especially a harsh Aug. 4 New York Times piece– Lolo for stealing the limelight from medal-winning athletes they feel should be enjoying a greater amount of television time.
But the truth is that it takes much more than success in one’s respective sport to earn prime-time media attention–something that her 100-meter teammates, Silver medalist Dawn Harper and bronze medalist Kellie Wells, seemingly fail to understand.
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During a Wednesday NBC news interview with Michelle Beadle, Harper seemed perturbed at the dearth of camera time she got after racing her way to a silver medal in the 100-meter hurdle finals:
“I thought I was a pretty good story. Knee surgery two months before Olympic trials in 2008, to make the team by 0.007, not have a contract, working three jobs, living in a frat house, running in someone else’s shoes to get the gold medal… ehhh, it sounds pretty interesting. Coming from East St. Louis. I just felt I worked really hard to represent my country to win the gold medal. I just feel like because their favorite didn’t win, we’re going to push your story aside and still gonna push this one, that hurt my feelings. But I showed I can deal with the pressure and came back [after coming in fourth in 2008], and I think you’ve kind of got to respect it a little bit now.”
It’s not about race, it’s about showmanship
Karen Hunter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, MSNBC contributor and book publisher, feels that Harper and Wells lack the media savvy needed to generate buzz around their personal stories.
“Dawn Harper is a fantastic runner,” Hunter told NewsOne in a phone interview. “But, personality wise, she hasn’t distinguished herself. And if you can honestly tell me she has this over-the-top, dynamic personality then I’ll shut up. But that hasn’t been the case. They’ve interviewed her. She doesn’t say anything off-script. She doesn’t do anything off script. She is very milquetoast”
Florence Griffith Joyner is the fastest woman ever with a 10.49 in the 100-meter dash and 21.34 in the 200-meter dash. She got her fair share of coverage. But she was a rather shy woman and not too media savvy. Though she made up for it by distinguishing herself with those super long fingernails, and the bright make-up she wore. And let us not forget those colorful track suits.
Simply put: Flo-Jo was beautiful. And great.
And if any of you want to pull the race card–especially the light-skinned-dark-skinned one– as a reason Harper and Wells are not getting any media love, don’t.
The women’s 100-meter hurdle winner, Sally Pearson (who, by the way, beat Lolo, Harper and Wells), isn’t getting much attention, either. Why? Because she doesn’t have a personality that would make us in the media gravitate towards her. Yeah, she won gold. But, no one has offered her an ESPN nude spread or a Real Sports feature because of it.
So is Pearson not getting hype because she is a White Australian? I’m willing to wager we’re not covering her as much because her news relevance dies as soon as she makes it over her last hurdle to victory.
Usain Bolt gets love–and crazy endorsements–because, of course, he is the fastest man ever. And, besides that, he has his little lighting bolt pose that he does and he’s always bouncing to the beat of something while grooving to his headphones. (We wonder what is on his playlist).
In short, Bolt is a showman.
Serena Williams gets all kinds of play,too, because 1) she’s, without question, a tennis legend 2) we LOVE her style and we’re as interested in how she looks as we are in her serve and 3) she has that “I don’t care I’m going to be me” attitude.
After giving Maria Sharapova the ultimate beat down during the Olympic singles final, Serena crip walked in happiness, not caring who would criticize her or what unwritten “etiquette” rule she was violating.
Serena is a great player. But, equally important, she’s YouTube friendly.
Ryan Lockte is perhaps one of the coolest swimmers ever because of that red, white and blue grill. Some may argue that he gets more attention than his swimming prowess deserves. But he is a media darling because he’s a little pompous, he’s a frat boy and a playboy. After he hangs up his swimming trunks, he hangs out with Ludacris.
Ryan is the new bad boy/frat boy reality celebrity-to-be and we, the media, want to learn more.
Harper and Wells, on the other hand, just flashed their smiles and waved their hands after winning their races. They no longer evoke curiosity when they leave the track.
You don’t need a medal to be smart
Lolo is as interesting off the track as she is on it. She tweets hilarious 140 character commentary about herself that draws us more into who she is as a person. And oh don’t we admire her 30-year-old virgin story.
Hunter says another reason television viewers emotionally connected with Lolo is because she is not afraid to wear her emotions on her sleeve. “That kind of raw, honest emotion that she has displayed, we rarely get to see that with these athletes who are so coached and groomed to say all of the right things,” she said.
If you want Lolo-esque media attention, you must have some flava or be so good at your sport that it would seem unnatural not to cover you. Micheal Phelps is pretty dull on camera and he certainly doesn’t register on women’s “Sexiest Men In The World” lists. But he gets coverage because we’re always wondering what record he’s going to break next.
No one would pay him any attention if he didn’t shatter as many records as he did. Period.
Harper and Wells are great runners. But they are not breaking records. And that’s not quite enough to make cameramen give them face time after they do their victory laps.
Another important consideration that has been lost in all of the media hype behind Lolo is that athletes have to capitalize off of their celebrity so that they can have post-sports careers. Lolo may continue running for another four years. Or not. But, because she has established an international media persona, she will have a healthy post-track life long after she hangs up her spikes.
That is not media hogging. That’s being smart.
And if Wells, Harper or any other athlete wants the kind of attention Lolo is getting, they best check their personality barometer first.
Otherwise, they’ll be just another Olympic medal winner. There are plenty of those around.