Truth, Justice and the American Way

By now every casual sports fan in the world has heard about the so-called “swimmer scandal” that occurred at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. Briefly, very briefly, this is what happened (or may have happened, or is said to have happened, or very possibly didn’t happen).

Olympic champion Ryan Lochte and three other U.S. swimmers were robbed at gunpoint while strolling in downtown Rio. With pistols aimed at their heads, the young men were ordered to lie in the street, at which point the bandits (maybe dressed as policemen, or maybe not) stole their wallets (but not their passports, Olympic certification documents or cell phones) and ran off (or drove off, or were beamed up to the mother ship).

What caused this unfortunate episode to mutate from “scary moment” to a “juicy scandal” (one that answered the prayers of every tabloid in existence) was when Rio law enforcement officials, who had never been entirely copasetic with the young men’s account of the incident, challenged the veracity of their story. To everyone’s surprise, Rio detectives publicly accused the swimmers of making up the whole thing.

Not to get bogged down with the details, but the investigators simply had too many problems with the men’s story. For one thing, the wallets that were supposedly stolen during the robbery were apparently still in their possession (it was reported that at least one of the wallets was revealed on airport metal detectors).

For another there was film footage of the men having an earlier altercation with a gas station security guard, something none of them bothered to mention. And for another, elements of their story kept changing. Alas, cops are cops—whether in NYC, Rio or Peoria, Illinois—and when cops hear people change their stories, it makes them nervous.

In any event, before a more thorough investigation could be launched, Ryan Lochte managed to slip out of Brazil (some said, unfairly, that he had “fled” the country), while his three teammates were not only “detained,” but were actually removed from the airplane they had boarded. According to news reports, Ryan’s attorney has stated that Ryan has no intention of returning to Brazil. The plot thickens.

But what’s most interesting about this whole sordid affair is the response of the public. You have people, commentators (including IOC public relations people), who want the incident to be treated as nothing more than a boyish prank, a “goof,” a stunt that could easily have been pulled by careless fraternity members. Basically, they want it to be seen as a bit of regrettable horseplay that got out of hand.

And then you have your “hanging judge” crowd. These are people who regard the act as both arrogant and symptomatic, committed by privileged white boys who saw themselves as “slumming” in a Latin America country—displaying the same aggressive, jingoistic mentality shown by Southern California teens who visit Tijuana, Mexico, to do mischief they wouldn’t dream of doing in the U.S.

Not only did these men file a false police report (which is a criminal offense), they embarrassed Brazilian civilians and law enforcement personnel by announcing on the biggest stage (the whole world was watching) that even “celebrity athletes” weren’t safe on the mean streets of Rio de Janeiro, that yes, a group of wholesome young guys can have their heads blown off.

Still, the “boys-will-be-boys” crowd has expressed its hope that Ryan Lochte doesn’t lose any of his lucrative endorsement deals, one of which is with Speedo swimwear. Like everyone, Ryan appreciates money. He even tried to register his signature expression, “Jeah” (a combination of “gee” and “yeah”) with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Although no one yet knows who’s guilty, it would be a shame if he were found to have made up the whole thing, and lost his Speedo endorsement as a consequence. While some companies have no problem using confirmed liars as their spokesmen, other companies tend to avoid it. As for young Ryan, all he can do is hope. Ryan’s hope. Jeah.

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David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

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