Leslie Jones is no stranger to competition.
Long before she joined the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” or starred in a female-led reboot of “Ghostbusters,” Jones made her way by leaving it all on the court. Her basketball skills earned her a scholarship to Colorado State University, although she didn’t love the game as much as she loved comedy.
“The plan was to get an education and then maybe play for the U.S. Olympic team,” Jones told CSU’s magazine. “I was a good player, and I wanted to get an education. I think I could have played professionally, maybe overseas, but I didn’t love basketball that much.”
Instead, in 1987 she chose comedy — which also found her fighting for her place.
As Chris Rock told the New Yorker about Jones, “Black women have the hardest gig in show business.”
Before Jones joined SNL, longtime cast member Kenan Thompson offered an explanation for why the show lacked black female comics. In a TV Guide interview, he said, “Like in auditions, they just never find ones that are ready.”
Jones took offense, calling him out on an Alias Smith and LeRoi podcast. Later, after securing a spot on the writing staff (and eventually becoming the oldest comedian to ever join the show as a cast member), she approached Thompson. “I came at him, like, ‘I heard what you said, motherf–––––,’ ” she told the New Yorker.
But another thing Jones is particularly adept at is turning what could be dark moments into light ones.
Now, “Kenan is possibly my best friend on the show,” she told the magazine.
That dovetail of qualities — competition and compassion — has raised her profile in recent weeks. She’s publicly called out cyberbullying, landed herself an impromptu gig as an Olympics commentator for NBC and, just Monday, became one of American Olympian Gabby Douglas’s staunchest defenders.
For years, Jones has used Twitter to defend herself. After her first appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” in which she joked about forced breeding during slavery — the general conceit being that dating would be easier for her then than it is now — she used the social media platform to defend the moral and ethical implications of her segment, launching many think pieces.
Recently, though, she almost left the social platform entirely following a barrage of angry, racist and sexist tweets aimed at her. They seemed to derive from fans’ unhappiness with the new “Ghostbusters” film (whether these “fans” actually saw the film or just found an excuse to spit vitriol on the Internet is another issue entirely).
After tweeting that she was “in a personal hell,” Jones tweeted the following, leading many to believe she was quitting the platform.
I feel like I'm in a personal hell. I didn't do anything to deserve this. It's just too much. It shouldn't be like this. So hurt right now.
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) July 19, 2016
She didn’t end up leaving, but one of her main tormentors, alt-right hero Milo Yiannopoulous — he tweeted that she was “barely literate” — was banned for violating Twitter’s abuse and harassment policies.
Had she left Twitter, she wouldn’t have been able to use the platform to stand up for Douglas.
Douglas is a 20-year-old black gymnast competing on behalf of the United States. Since the beginning of her public life, Douglas has been beset by constant criticism, much of it absurd. It began with criticism about her hair during the London Olympics. This time around, it was about her hand not being over her heart during “The Star-Spangled Banner” and not cheering enough when her teammates were competing.
“She’s had to deal with people criticizing her hair, or people accusing her of bleaching her skin. They said she had breast enhancements, they said she wasn’t smiling enough, she’s unpatriotic. Then it went to not supporting your teammates. Now you’re ‘Crabby Gabby,’ ” her mother, Natalie Hawkins, told Reuters. “You name it and she got trampled. What did she ever do to anyone?”
Douglas has spoken to The Washington Post about the criticism she’s endured.
“When they talk about my hair or me not putting my hand up on my heart or me being very salty in the stands, they’re really criticizing me, and it doesn’t really feel good,” Douglas told The Post. “It was a little bit hurtful.”
Jones has been at the receiving end of similar strange and arguably prejudiced hatred.
After Douglas received a torrent of insults, Jones decided to speak out from Rio. On Tuesday morning she tweeted in support of Douglas:
— Leslie Jones (@Lesdoggg) August 15, 2016
It set off a firestorm of tweets encouraging the American three-time gold medalist.
Later that day, Jones was joined on Twitter by a corps d’elite of black celebrities — including Shonda Rhimes, Terry McMillan and Kerry Washington — echoing her enthusiasm and her message with the hashtag #LOVE4GABBYUSA.
— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) August 15, 2016
It takes ignorance, no class, no respect & unadulterated racism (including African-Americans) to criticize this Olympian. #LOVE4GABBYUSA
— Terry McMillan (@MsTerryMcMillan) August 15, 2016
Many, many other users quickly followed suit, including actor Josh Charles, who tweeted, “Haters gonna hate, but i got nothing but #LOVE4GABBYUSA.”
“Know you are supported and loved,” tweeted one user. “Gabby Douglas is one of three US women gymnasts EVER to win 3 Olympic gold medals. Show some damn respect,” tweeted another. “Gabby, hold your head high. Your haters can’t walk one block from their house, much less perform as you can. Best to you!” tweeted a third.
— Maridsa (@maridsa_) August 15, 2016
— Laura Silverman (@LJSilverman1) August 15, 2016
The trending tweets certainly seemed to lift Douglas’s spirits. On Monday evening, she tweeted the following:
Thank u so much for all the love! My heart is full! @Lesdoggg I love you guys!
— Gabrielle Douglas (@gabrielledoug) August 15, 2016