Ryan Lochte needs to man up and fly to Rio. I watched Matt Lauer‘s interview with Lochte and cringed at his statement “I over-exaggerated that story.” It’s not the regretful words of a 32-year-old man, it’s the excuse of a 21-year-old frat boy; the very frat boy Lochte claims he’s not.
These are the facts:
- Lochte went to an all-night party held by the French team and got horribly drunk.
- He and three teammates took a cab ride home around 6 a.m., and stopped for gas and to relieve themselves.
- Unable to get into the rest room, at least one of them forced the restroom door open, or urinated in the bushes behind the station.
- Confronted by security, Lochte pulled an advertising banner from the station’s wall.
- The security guards would not let the swimmers leave until they’d paid, or the police arrived (it’s unclear if they were actually called).
- When Lochte tried to leave, one of the guards drew his firearm and pointed it in the swimmers’ direction.
- The swimmers paid the equivalent of $50 and left.
Here’s what Lochte told everyone, starting with his mother:
- We were robbed at gunpoint at 3 a.m.
- The robbers stopped our taxi, ordered us to get out, get down on the ground.
- I resisted, and had a gun put to my forehead and cocked.
- I gave the robbers my wallet.
This is not “over-exaggerating.” It’s flat-out lying.
Laurer brought Lochte nearly to tears after asking if he realized what he’d done to his teammates. Lochte also admitted he could lose sponsors, and potentially be banned from competitive swimming. Almost certainly, his apology on Instagram was made mostly to keep himself from that fate.
Lochte didn’t vary much from that statement in his interview with Laurer. But his problem isn’t with USA Swimming, or the USOC, or his teammates, or his sponsors. His problem is with America and Brazil.
There are two stereotypes at play.
Brazil is a contradiction: In many (perhaps, to an American, most) ways, a third-world country, with rampant poverty, health issues, environmental disasters, crime, and corruption. But it’s also a modern, beautiful, exotic, and quite peaceful place. There’s literally nowhere in the world like Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio, which have been enshrined in song and story.
The stereotype of Brazil as a third-world South American country–the lawlessness and adventure–is what Lochte propagated. His account would make any American think “gee, I’d be lucky to escape with my life!” It’s insulting to Brazilians.
The other (and worse, in my opinion) stereotype is the Ugly American. In many places around the world, Americans are seen as rich frat boys, or loud Bermuda shorts-wearing fat people who don’t know any of the local customs, and treat the locals like hired help. This is the image Lochte left with Brazilians.
Did the judge who ordered swimmers Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger off a plane home, and ordered James Feigen’s passport confiscated over-react? Possibly–but completely understandably. Would anyone blame Brazilian authorities if they were a bit piqued that four Americans would act like drunk frat boys, get themselves in hot water, then lie about it to make Brazil look like some drug-fueled favela ruled by criminal gangs?
Would anyone blame Brazilians for protecting the honor of their country as the host country of the Olympic Games?
As a Georgian for the past 24 years, I witnessed the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games. To me, they were a proud embarrassment. Proud because Atlanta, less than 2 hours from my home, pulled it off. They were a great games. Embarrassment, because of the transportation, ticketing, and security problems that were widely reported. And then there was the pipe bomb at Centennial Olympic Park. No effort was spared to capture Erick Rudolph. It took two years.
That was the last time the U.S. hosted the summer games. President Obama tried to get the games for Chicago, and made an unprecedented personal appeal. He failed. Ryan Lochte could cost America the summer games: Los Angeles has bid for 2024, along with Rome, Paris and Budapest.
Why would the IOC select Los Angeles when American athletes are perceived as lying about an Olympic host country, then fleeing home?
“It’s how you want to make it look like. Whether you call it a robbery, whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages, like, we don’t know,” Lochte responded. “All we know is that there was a gun pointed in our direction, and we were demanded to give money.”
“We just wanted to get out of there,” Lochte said. “We were all frightened. And we wanted to get out of there as quick as possible. And the only way we knew is — this guy saying, ‘You have to give him money.’ So we gave him money, and we got out.”
Other countries do things differently than America. I’ve traveled overseas. In places like Bangkok it’s common to see armed security anywhere foreigners or the wealthy might be found. In Rio, where there are desperately poor people scrounging for any break, it’s perfectly reasonable for a gas station to have security (or a hotel, or a restaurant). It’s reasonable for them to lock their bathrooms.
And if you mess with other people’s property overseas, you should be frightened. But I don’t think Lochte was frightened of giving $50 to a security guard. He was frightened of being arrested and disgraced. Well he didn’t get arrested, but he did become a disgrace.
Fortunately, there’s a solution here. Lochte should stop saying he “over-exaggerated” his account in the press. He should tell the truth–he lied to make himself look better. He didn’t care about his teammates, or his country, or swimming at that point. He cared about Ryan.
He should get on an airplane–today–clear customs in Brazil, and let himself be taken into custody. He should pay whatever fine they hit him with. Then he should go on Brazilian television and confess his lie. They’re human. They’ll accept it if he gives it sincerely.
All Lochte has done with his awful NBC interview and his red, wet eyes is to make things exponentially worse. He could be the face of the tearful ugly American for many years in Olympic circles, and he could cost Los Angeles the games.