Ryan Lochte went out partying in Rio de Janeiro and made a series of poor decisions. In the span of five days he’s transformed from sympathetic simpleton to international pariah. The complete truth of what went down on Sunday morning likely lies somewhere in the middle of the two disparate stories being told by Lochte and Brazilian authorities. Both narratives deserve scrutiny. They also don’t need to be investigated with the ferocity of Jim Garrison obsessing over the JFK assassination.
Some drunk dudes peed in the wrong place and lightly vandalized a gas station bathroom. They shouldn’t have done that. Not in Brazil and not on a college campus, where similar situations play out weekly — usually without guns being drawn.
Lochte shouldn’t have lied about the incident. He shouldn’t have leveraged Rio’s reputation as a crime-ridden cesspool in order to sweep his own actions under the rug. It was a selfish, insensitive and stupid thing to do. A 32-year-old man should know better. Lochte is not your average 32-year-old man and acted inappropriately, compounding his mistake by trying to cover it up.
There should be no debate about that, even by the most blindly patriotic American.
And yet, Lochte is being portrayed as the latest ugly American, a mascot for this country’s myopic and entitled worldview. He is being used to embody every bad trait ascribed to us — justly or otherwise — by the rest of the world.
This is unreasonable, unfair and illogical.
Yes, Lochte was in Brazil representing the United States. But was there a single person who was holding him up as the picture of what it means to be an American before the incident? Who looked to him as a beacon of any virtue this country holds dear?
What sane person was basing their worth as an American — and the merit of being such — on the actions of a dim-witted swimmer? More specifically, a dim-witted swimmer whose accomplishments are buried under an avalanche of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky gold medals. More specifically, a hair dye enthusiast whose lasting mark on the world to this point had been the word “Jeah.”
Two things happened yesterday. Americans rushed to share how embarrassed they were by Lochte’s actions and Americans rushed to tell others how much they should be embarrassed by them.
Lochte embarrassed himself. He brought shame to his family. He put his younger teammates in a seemingly impossible situation.
Most of us are several layers removed from any connection with Lochte. That buffer zone allows us the ability to think critically and realize our self-worth and pride aren’t tied to his actions.
Some could argue that when you root for and enjoy an athlete’s successes, you must also share in their failure. To a certain point, that’s reasonable. But deep down most understand that when Lochte wins a gold medal, it’s a reflection of his personal skill, not a grand pronouncement of American exceptionalism.
Lochte didn’t suddenly become the face of a nation. The moral hand-wringing burns calories but isn’t necessary. More importantly, this whole ordeal is being exacerbated by two sides who are striving for hollow victories.
First, those worrying that Lochte has sullied the otherwise good name of this country abroad aren’t living in reality. It’s not breaking news to report American tourists are stereotyped around the world. A singular incident with an Olympic swimmer isn’t going to cause any global shift in attitudes.
Secondly, the Brazilian authorities appear to have pushed so hard to disprove Lochte’s claim in the interest of saving face. It’s as if they believed they could prove Rio was safe if they discounted one particular armed robbery. Again, this one incident won’t — and should not — tip the scales in global perception of the city.
Both sides are fighting to win the hearts and minds of those who will make up their hearts and minds based on on ridiculously small sample sizes. People who believe Lochte is indicative of 319 million Americans. People who will think Rio is crime-free utopia because one false police report was filed.
These are empty pursuits aimed at swaying simple minds. And victory will only last until the next incident. It’s a never-ending cycle.
To that end, if you allow Lochte to define your worth, where does it end? Don’t you have to do the same thing to every public figure on the world stage? How do you monitor the global pride market with so many stocks in play?
Seems like a good way to go crazy.
It’s simpler and healthier to control what you can control. If you’re so worried about the reputation of surly and inconsiderate Americans abroad, the best thing you can do is to be the opposite if you’re fortunate enough to globetrot. Attempt to speak the native language. Be gracious. Be patient. Don’t act entitled. Don’t be like Lochte.
He’s not you and you’re not him. Sweep your own side of the street and know there’s nothing you can do to stop Lochte from pissing on his.