Liar, Liar, Blue Hair on Fire
As many of you know, this summer the USA Olympics swimming team’s many incredible feats were overshadowed by a scandal from Ryan Lochte. Lochte, originally from New York, is an American backstroker and a 12-time Olympic medalist. In fact, he ranks second only behind Michael Phelps. However, this summer he was made famous not by the gold he won in the men’s 4x200m Freestyle relay, but by his claim that he had been robbed at gunpoint. Here’s the timeline of events:
On August 14, Lochte claims that as he and several other high profile American swimmers (Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen) returned from a party, they were robbed at gunpoint by criminals wearing police badges. All of the swimmers were drunk. Lochte reports that the robbers pointed the gun at his forehead and demanded money.
On August 17, Conger and Bentz, two of the swimmers who were with Lochte that night, are removed from a US bound plane by the Brazilian police. Lochte had flown home the day before. At this point, Lochte changes his story, saying that a gun was pointed in his general direction and not directly at his forehead. He adds that the incident occurred outside of a gas station bathroom. He still maintains that he and the other swimmers were robbed at gunpoint.
On August 18, a security camera video emerges of Lochte and the other swimmers at a Brazilian gas station. The footage shows the swimmers vandalizing a poster outside of the bathroom, and then later being held at gunpoint by a security guard until they paid for the damages. The Brazilian police recommend that Lochte and his companions be charged with the false reporting of a crime.
On August 19, Bentz releases a detailed statement in which he apologizes for the incident and clarifies the story. He says that he and the other swimmers needed to use the restroom, but since bathroom door was locked, they relieved themselves in some bushes behind the gas station. While there, Lochte reportedly pulled a framed metal advertisement from the wall. Bentz says that later when the security guards demanded money, Lochte entered into a heated exchange with them, while his swimmer friends tried to restrain him. At this time, a customer offered to act as an interpreter between the swimmers and the security guards. The swimmers paid around $50 for the damages and then were allowed to leave.
On August 20, Lochte says in an NBC interview that he “over-exaggerated” the incident and claims he was still intoxicated when he made his claims of being robbed. He insinuates that he did not totally understand the situation at that time due to the alcohol and the language barrier. However, Matt Lauer, the interviewer, points out that there was a customer acting as an interpreter for the swimmers, so Lochte’s language barrier argument does not make sense. Lochte alternates between saying that the situation could be interpreted as a robbery and saying that he takes “full responsibility” for his actions, though I personally think he does not clearly define what his ‘actions’ were. I feel that certain parts of this apology are sincere. He was clearly emotional about getting his teammates in trouble but I do not think he truly accepted “full responsibility” because he kept insinuating that he was drunk or did not understand what was going on, which in my mind are excuses.
On August 25, Lochte is officially charged by the Brazilian police with reporting a false robbery.
On September 7, Lochte is punished for his acts by the International Olympic Committee and USA Swimming with a 10 month suspension and will not be permitted to compete in the 2017 World Championships.
To be honest, I think Lochte was a guy who made a mistake and then was too cowardly, when sober, to admit he had lied. Unfortunately, the other swimmers who were with Lochte that night had to make the tough decision of whether to tell on Lochte, their teammate, or lie. Most of them covered up the story for a few days but later admitted the truth. Out of all of this mess, I’m most bothered by Lochte sticking with his story of being robbed at gunpoint for six days. Saying something foolish when you are drunk is one thing, but agreeing with a fabricated story when you are sober is another. He should have told the truth when he sobered up. It’s crazy to think that this whole international event happened because of a $50 destruction charge.
The attention this incident received shows how many people were watching the Olympics and worrying about the competitors’ safety in Brazil. I also think this moment demonstrates the fact that Lochte may not understand how much power his words have–we, as a society, place outstanding athletes on a pedestal and we listen when they speak.
As for the sentencing, I think it seems pretty fair. Lochte has been internationally embarrassed, as he rightly should be, and has had to make several televised apologies since then. Keeping in mind that Lochte was one of the oldest swimmers in these Olympics and that he probably will retire soon, I think the 10 month suspension is more of a statement by the International Olympic Committee that they will not condone this type of behavior. The greater punishment is that Lochte has lost almost all of his major sponsors, including Speedo and Ralph Lauren. According to Associated Press, Lochte could be facing up to 18 months in a Brazilian prison due his charges, but I think this is a bit extreme. It is also important to note that since this scandal was so widely publicized, it will probably tarnish his swimming legacy. It will be interesting to see if 10 years from now, he is remembered as an excellent swimmer, or as a drunken dodo. I personally find this a good reminder that despite their fame, celebrities are still people and can do really unintelligent things.