[Op-Ed] Lolo Jones Twitter Debacle: Eric LeGrand Isn’t Offended, Why Are We Again?

Commentary | This morning’s furor is largely directed at Olympic track star Lolo Jones for causing controversy on Twitter (again) with an insensitive message to paralyzed former football player, Eric LeGrand. Marking yet another entry in what has long been an embarrassing trend, LeGrand wasn’t even given the chance to be offended. Why should he be, when self-affecting righteousness pervades internet wide?

Because there’s no need for the former footballer to be offended. There are plenty of people out there to do it for him.

It all started when Eric LeGrand, who used to play football with Rutgers University’s Scarlet Knights before being tragically paralyzed in his junior year, jokingly tweeted Jones on Monday saying, “Want to race me?” Jones unwittingly responded, “Get checked for a concussion. clearly u’ve been hit in the head … cos u arent beating a track athlete.”

We already covered the full story is here, so we’ll pick up with the aftermath in which Jones has apologized profusely to anyone who will listen, and LeGrand has nobly stepped forward to defend the Olympiate from her critics.

LeGrand is a titan of good character. He didn’t even need to see Jones’ later clarification and apology before responding “didnt take it personal, understand where ur coming from. All good.” After all, it was athlete-on-athlete trash talk. It’s what they do. Jones has backed up and “mea culpa’d” as much as is humanly possible in such a short period of time, but LeGrand’s messages of “did not mean to start anything at all, sorry for all this crazy stuff being said. Much respect for you,” are sadly being lost in the deluge of criticism against Jones that has taken a disturbingly personal tone.

Ryan Hudson of SB Nation took a shot at Jones’ personal character over the tweets, saying, “Everything you need to know about her intentions are clearly on display in her original tweet that started it all,” and concluding “it was a lowest common denominator joke, made by a lowest common denominator person.”

Holy sense of self-righteousness, Batman!

The point here is that no one has a right to be offended except Eric LeGrand. How many people have criticized Jones over the incident without even knowing of LeGrand’s paralysis themselves before this morning? Here we have two inspiring and accomplished individuals playfully engaging in some competitive back-and-forth. For those with knowledge of LeGrand’s paralysis, Jones’ tweet is indeed cringe-worthy. But after a quick “Hey, you know he’s actually paralyzed, right?” Jones immediately apologized. Immediately. Yet there are still posts and tweets going out this instant damning the Olympic athlete for her insensitivity.

It doesn’t even boil down to a matter of motive. Did Jones know that LeGrand was paralyzed and post that tweet as an insensitive dig? Though all evidence points to the contrary, that wouldn’t have even mattered because of how LeGrand took it. He was inviting competitive talk. It’s fun. It’s how athletes and former athletes communicate. Heck, LeGrand’s initial tweet put him in a humble and somewhat self-deprecating spot to begin with. Are we going to be offended about that?

We’re not alone in this either. A few publications like the L.A. Times have stepped forward to defend Jones as well, but, by-and-large, it’s the media versus Lolo Jones. Many among us are either willfully ignorant or naive to the fact that LeGrand is fighting through this controversy by her side and that’s the only thing that matters.

If he was genuinely offended by her comment, it might be a slightly different story. But the buck stopped at his Twitter response for all of us. Sadly, we’ve ignored his response which should have acted as a bulwark against all of the criticism. Now who’s insensitive?

So kudos for Jones for realizing her mistake and apologizing for the perceived insensitivity. Extra props to Eric LeGrand for his incredible grace and character. You were both right in how you handled this misunderstanding. Anyone who is taking offense on your behalf is arrogantly and patently outside of their circle of influence. It’s embarrassing, and they owe both of you an apology.

“If LeGrand isn’t offended, you shouldn’t be either. End of story.”