The 2016 Summer Olympics have been a gold mine for American athletes – as I write this the United States has earned 40 gold medals, and 110 overall. These wonderful accomplishments by our athletes should be what the conversation is about in Rio; however, because of the teenage antics of swimmer Ryan Lochte and three other swim team members, everyone is talking about their crude and embarrassing episode in a gas station bathroom.
We have seen this all before in America – professional athletes behaving badly. Whether it is taking PEDs or abusing a partner or assaulting a fellow player, all these reprehensible kinds of actions diminish sports nationwide. It is bad enough when have to deal with these things at home, but the Olympics is a worldwide stage and everyone is watching, so when one or more American athletes does something wrong, it is magnified one hundredfold.
So much has already been written and said about the Ryan Lochte debacle in Rio, but perhaps not enough has been done. Lochte, like many athletes behaving badly before him, didn’t even have the decency to stick around and deal with the consequences of his actions in a straightforward manner. Lochte hopped a plane home and let the other three swimmers involved in the incident face the music.
In this case the music was a dirge, and it is despicable that these four athletes acted like anything but Olympians. As representatives of our country, their demeanor and actions should have been exemplary during their stay in Rio. On that Olympic world stage, the people are not merely players, but rather living symbols of the country they represent.
Besides bringing shame to America, the worst part is always the same – the children are watching and looking for role models they want to eventually emulate on the court, on the field, or in a pool. How sad is it that some athletes take for granted this sacred charge to aspire to greatness not just for country or their own rewards but to inspire young people to want to be like them one day.
The story changed several times about exactly what happened, but the gist of it is that Gold Medal Winner Lochte and fellow swimmers James Feigen, Jack Conger, and Gunnar Bentz went to a party outside the Olympic Village, and upon returning in a taxi stopped in a gas station to use the bathroom. Initially Lochte reported that he and the others had been robbed, but then subsequent stories came forward that the swimmers actually vandalized the bathroom and caused other damage. Guns were drawn, but by security guards for the gas station, and some money supposedly exchanged hands – but more as money to cover damages rather than a robbery.
In this case there is no clear version of what really happened, and security video of the incident leaves more questions than answers. The problem is that the four swimmers, regardless of what occurred, got very drunk and violated the rules. The United States Olympic Committee has condemned their behavior, but none of this erases the damage done.
Lochte did issue an apology, but it was really too little and much too late. The other three athletes were detained in Brazil and had their passports confiscated. Eventually Conger and Buntz were allowed to return to America (only after discrediting Lochte’s story), but Feigen was detained until he paid approximately $11,000 to a Brazilian charity for impoverished youth, but this becomes just so many pieces of silver and leaves a bad taste in the mouth for anyone witnessing this disgrace.
Apologies and donations notwithstanding, Lochte and friends have helped to further damage America’s image around the world. Their actions have also harmed the host country Brazil, which has been going through enough turmoil and receiving criticism for athlete and attendee safety, the Zika virus, and water pollution – Brazilians obviously didn’t want or need this kind of scrutiny and bad publicity.
Lochte has his medals but has lost people’s respect and his reputation may not be salvageable unless he takes great pains to right this terrible wrong. We all recognize that he knows how to jump into a pool and swim well, and he was very good at swiftly getting out of the country when he knew the getting was good, but none of this is admirable. Because of these actions, chances are Lochte will miss an opportunity for millions of dollars in endorsements that would have come his way after Rio, so his childish antics probably end up hurting him as much or more than anyone else.
Ryan Lochte can begin to repair his reputation by doing more than just offering a tepid apology. Lochte should go out of his way to perform some kind of community service, preferably for the Brazilian people, which could mean establishing a charity or going there to visit and help them raise funds or build a swimming pool for poor children.
He must also remember that he is a role model and needs to live his life accordingly. This is a teachable moment now for everyone, but especially children, so how he proceeds from this point does indeed matter a great deal.
If he does not do good deeds and change his ways, Lochte’s legacy will have nothing to do with winning 12 Olympic medals and everything to do with his despicable behavior in a Rio gas station's bahroom. That’s how he will be remembered, and perhaps that is the most suitable punishment of all.