Having just arrived home from Rio de Janeiro, where I was covering the 2016 Olympics for Florida Swim Network and Your Swim Channel, I have been stunned by the Ryan Lochte robbery story just like everyone else.
Due to my proximity via the swimming community, lots of friends have been asking my opinion, and after having ridden the story through to the athletes’ apologies, I think I have come to my own conclusion, especially after having been in Rio firsthand to see the chaos of getting around town.
I think the biggest thing the swimmers are guilty of is partying too hard, like just about every other person at a Hospitality House, where over-the-top nightly parties encourage the Olympians and other guests to let loose and celebrate via lots of alcohol.
Many Olympic events don’t get over until well after midnight, so the parties don’t truly get started until around 2 or 3 in the morning. It was common in our house for families (with kids) to roll in well after this due to heavy traffic packing the roads until almost sunrise. So, by the time the swimmers finished up at the France House and flagged a taxi, I am sure traffic was still heavy causing them to stop at a gas station to relieve their bladder busters before they could reach the Athlete Village.
If I was drunk and found the bathroom door locked, I might go behind the station and cop a squat, too. Again, in that state, who knows why Ryan decided to pull down a poster, which seems to be the biggest act of vandalism according to the swimmers involved. (There hasn’t been any video evidence of any damage but the one poster pulled down.)
Of course, sober any of this would be unacceptable, but we’re talking about 2 college kids and 2 guys who apparently aren’t much more mature than college kids who were coming home after a late night of partying.
On this all parties agree. Hard to determine what truly transpired before that point, but the one fact that stands out in my mind is that if anyone but the police threatens me with guns and then starts demanding money, I’m thinking they are probably bad guys.
Remember, drunk guys, foreign country, warnings by everyone from the USOC and the press that people are being robbed right and left, and so it seems pretty natural that the swimmers might misunderstand the guns and demand for money as a robbery attempt. (American gas stations do not have armed guards!)
Insert a customer who offers to translate… what if he all he translated as the guns were still drawn was, “You can’t leave here until you give them money…”?
I might think I am being robbed, too, not putting together my pulling down a poster with having to pay money to make amends. (Again drunk and by this time pissed.)
I pay the money and leave, thus thinking the robbers only took money and not my watch or credentials. I don’t think the swimmers lied about thinking they were robbed, except Lochte’s exaggeration of the gun being held to his head, which he later retracted.
I can’t blame the Rio officials for going into crisis management mode, which they handled expertly. They already had several athletes robbed at gunpoint, and one such as Lochte’s stature would truly be a black eye.
Through their crisis management, they have been able to turn the tables and make this a fundraiser, requiring swimmer Jimmy Feigen to donate around $11,000 to a local sports charity (around $33,000 in Brazilian money) to gain the return of his passport and avoid prosecution for an as-of-yet unnamed crime. (Rio officials are appealing and attempting to raise the amount to $50,000 in US dollars.)
Since when does peeing behind a gas station and pulling down a poster warrant such a humongous fine?!
My blame, however, lies with Lochte’s agent and attorneys who should have released his apology and explanation at least 24 hours earlier than they did. Why did they let the story spiral out of control for so long?
Apologize for causing damage at the gas station, explain the misunderstanding with the guards, make a donation, man up.
Do that and it fades away quickly.
Michael Phelps has overcome smoking pot, a DUI, and a suspension from USA Swimming. This, too, can be overcome. Lochte has one of the biggest and kindest hearts in all of swimming, so I hope his management team can take steps to rebuild his reputation. The best thing Ryan can do, though, is stop acting like a drunk college kid and start acting like the 32-year-old man he is.
The swimming world and your fans love you and don’t want you to be the douche that has been portrayed by this event. Show the world that you’re not, Ryan.