Sports with Sophie

The New York Times described them as “drunken antics.” The phrase, when read alone, conjures up images of tipsy teenagers running around and pulling pranks — perhaps TPing or ding-dong ditching a house. What doesn’t come to mind when one reads such a lighthearted phrase is grown men vandalizing a public restroom in a foreign country — except that’s exactly what the New York Times was writing about when they used it.

The New York Times, along with every other major news outlet in the country, was detailing the ongoing drama that has been aptly dubbed “LochteGate.” As far as everyone knows, the story began with a police report filed by Ryan Lochte and one of his teammates. Lochte claimed he and his fellow Olympians were stopped by armed men who were brandishing police badges. Lochte alleged that he and his teammates were then robbed at gunpoint.

Not long after Lochte filed the report, videos were released showing that Lochte was drunk and disorderly, damaging the bathroom of a gas station and arguing with a security guard who was attempting to placate him. The situation escalated to the point where guards had to brandish guns in order to collect money from the swimmers for the damages they had caused.

When he made his “public apology,” Lochte said, “It’s traumatic to be out late in a foreign country with your friends — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself.” The apology, which is the cherry on top of the already melted and destroyed sundae, is more an excuse than an atonement for his behavior.

The entire situation is troubling on multiple levels — the fact that Lochte committed such unnecessary acts and then lied to investigators about them — and sends a clear message about the entitlement that some athletes, particularly white and male ones, feel they have.

The U.S. is notorious for coddling its male athletes, allowing them to receive lighter sentences when it comes to rape and assault charges as well as creating an environment in which they can act like wild juveniles even though they have, in fact, far outgrown that age range. Lochte is not alone when it comes to this phenomenon — the Brock Turner sexual assault case is perhaps the most recent and most drastic example — but the Olympian’s behavior raises several red flags.

The first, and perhaps the most disconcerting one, is that Lochte felt he could go to a foreign country and act in a way that is wildly disrespectful to the host nation of Brazil as well as the Olympics themselves. His treatment of the gas station in Rio is emblematic of how he could think about the host city and nation itself — that it is a place Lochte feels comfortable enough to use and abuse. This could be a result of an innate sense of superiority, a sense fostered by his immense success in the sporting and pop culture world of the U.S.

The next red flag, only slightly less concerning than the first, is that Lochte felt he could lie to investigators and get away with it. Because it is a crime to file a false police report in Brazil (and in the U.S. for that matter), Lochte must have felt very secure in his ability to skirt the rule of law. And why wouldn’t he? His position as a successful American white male has allowed him every privilege and opportunity and there’s no reason to believe that it wouldn’t help to ease the damage in this situation as well.

The third red flag is that despite the fact that he clearly and unequivocally committed an immense wrongdoing, Lochte was unable to submit a real and heartfelt apology. Lochte could not even muster the strength to admit that he had made a grave mistake — and that’s the true tragedy. He’s not the first athlete to commit such a transgression, and he most certainly will not be the last, but his case shows a lack of responsibility and dignity that reflects poorly on the state of athletics in America.

Sophie Goethals writes the column about social issues in the world of sports and their potential ramifications. Contact her at [email protected]