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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ugly Americans

I enjoyed the U.S. Swim Team's performance at the Rio Games very much.  The team exceeded expectations and looked like they had a good time doing it.  Young swimmers excelled, as did the tattooed grizzled veteran, Anthony Ervin, who had the swim of his life in the 50-meter race.  It was great to watch.

And that should have been it, at least until a couple of nights ago when a male quartet that star swimmer Ryan Lochte led did something stupid that caused them to have a run in with a private security guard who seemingly was right to inquire as to what Lochte and his three teammates were doing at the gas station in the wee hours.  Turns out, they needed to use the rest room, and, finding it locked, they kicked the door in.  The guard or owner, I don't recall, asked for some compensation to fix the door.  The swimmers offered $20, and that should have been it.  Basically, a bunch of young men (although Lochte, at 32, shouldn't come close to getting the "college boys will be boys" leniency) were out too late and did something stupid.  That probably should have been it.

Except that Lochte fabricated a story, the motivation for which was unclear, that Rio cops pulled over their tax, held them up at gunpoint and took their wallets.  That story baffled the local authorities, who were reeling enough because of some of the crime that transpired during the games, some of it very violent.  Lochte's and his teammates stories changed, didn't square up, and it didn't seem plausible to those investigating Lochte's story that the robbers would have left the swimmers with their cell phones.  That's not the modus operandi of robbers in Rio, apparently.  In addition, Lochte seemed way too nonchalant about having a gun put up to his forehead (something that did not happen), and video at the gas station and then from the Olympic Village seemed to indicate that the returning swimmers were in pretty good moods despite what allegedly happened.

What's puzzling is why Lochte felt a need to concoct his story unless as a means to mollify whoever was monitoring the whereabouts of the swimmers.  But why he felt a need to do so after the swim races were over is baffling because it is not as though USA Swimming or the USOC would suspend him for missing curfew.  Instead, as can happen with webs of lies, the story took on a life of its own, and what it now appears to be is that unaccountable and entitled, privileged young Americans tried to impugn the integrity of the local safety situation to cover their rear ends because they made a mistake.  What Lochte and his buddies failed to assess was the degree with which the Rio authorities would fight back to challenge the story.  After all, the story drew international headlines, the types that might continue to scare away tourists because, well, if robberies could happen to these big, strong guys they could happen to anyone.

At one level, the whole thing is stupid, young people when they get together and party together can do stupid stuff, and the whole thing shall pass.  At another level, and at a time where Brazil is having too many down moments and the U.S. can suffer from looking privileged and entitled, the whole story looks bad.  It piles on another bad episode on Rio, and, at the same time, tarnishes to some degree the accomplishments of the entire U.S. swim team.  After all, if those four are representative of the others, then what type of entitled prima donnas do we have on our swim team?  (Note:  similar accusations could fly toward the U.S. women's soccer team, if only because of the post-loss comments of Hope Solo, who called the Swedish team cowards.  That doesn't make the U.S. women's team a collection of sore losers, but it does call into question why it has tolerated Solo's lack of good judgment and temperament over the years -- it can set a pall over the entire team).

Lochte left Brazil, two others swimmers were pulled off their plane home and another never got the chance to go to the airport.  For this thing to end peacefully and in the spirit of accountability, Lochte and his teammates should issue and apology.  And Lochte also should write a check -- he has a lot of endorsement money -- for say $25,000 to $50,000 to a local Rio youth sports program as a good will gesture to help patch things up.  But if he remains silent and stays in the U.S. without making this right, then you have to wonder about him.  And if he were to remain on the U.S. swim team should he not apologize and make things right, well, then that would say something about USA Swimming too. 

Lochte picked his sin; he cannot choose his consequences.  He and his teammates would be well-suited to make this a non-story going forward as quickly as they can.


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