Friday, July 3, 2020
US flag

In the matter of Ryan Lochte, white athlete

An Olympic swimmer from the US stands accused of embellishing a story, first given by his mother, to Brazilian police about being held up at gunpoint in Rio De Janeiro. If found guilty of making up the story, he wouldn’t face any time in jail, according to Brazilian authorities.

The case of Ryan Lochte, 32, casts a dark shadow on the US Olympic team, despite many accomplishments, particularly from Maryland-based swimmers Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps, who won his 23rd gold medal and 28th over all in Rio.

After all competition had concluded last week, Frank Busch, USA Swimming’s national team director, lifted the curfew on athletes, allowing those over 21 to explore the local setting. But he warned them about staying on their best behavior and staying safe.

“If you make a poor decision,” the New York Times said he recalled telling the team, “it’s going to take away from everything we’ve accomplished the last seven days.”

And that is precisely what happened. The behavior of four athletes has completely detracted from the accomplishments of all the others. They showed themselves to be spoiled and untruthful. It represents the worst of America when shown against the backdrop of all the great accomplishments athletes achieved at the games.

American swimmers Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz attended a party hosted by French authorities Saturday night and left in the early hours of Sunday morning, August 14. A taxi was taking them back to the athletes’ village. Those facts are undisputed.

The next series of events is where the disputes, debate, diplomacy, and police scrutiny heat up. At a gas station where the swimmers got out to use the bathroom on the way back, police say one (or more) of them vandalized the bathroom. A security guard reportedly drew his firearm to keep them under control until police could get there.

The swimmers then reportedly paid about $50 and left the scene before police could arrive. Mr Lochte made a statement that the taxi had been stopped by armed men, one of whom held a gun to his head and stole money from his wallet. His story changed later.

It’s possible, given the different versions of what happened, that money was extorted from the athletes, who no doubt looked wealthier than the gas station attendant or security guard. It’s quite consistently told that the swimmers damaged the restroom, but it’s not clear whether they knew they were paying for the damages they had caused or being robbed.

Mr Lochte, who attended the University of Florida, issued an apology that adds little to the story. The chief of police speculated he may have fabricated details as a way of covering up for his staying out till almost sunrise, but at this point, many facts remain unclear in published reports.


In the end, America is a forgiving nation and most people will no doubt accept Mr Lochte’s apology. But many actual children, who are shot by police for reasons that have nothing to do with criminal activity—and here I speak mainly of black children in Baltimore and Chicago—won’t ever get a chance to apologize.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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