Olympic coverage has been all about Ryan Lochte the past few days, with our gleaming, speedo-clad buffon cycling between victim and pantomime villain, the truth lost somewhere in between.
We can understand irritation with Lochte, even if he is not in Brazil representing you. He should know better at 32, even if most blessed with his looks and athletic gifts would be cavorting in a quite similar manner.
But, what’s unclear with coverage of this incident is why Rio police have been posed as an incorruptible paragon of virtue, unbiased analysis and the rule of law. That is anything but the case. Police have the clearest bias of any party involved here.
The salient issue with the police has not been whether they can struggle valiantly to keep enough order to hold a sports tournament. It’s the excessive, unregulated, horrifically violent means by which they have done so. Far more tangible than any economic benefit from the World Cup or Olympics has been an extraordinary spike in police killings coinciding with them, which are just the reported figures.
Why have the Rio police been sensitive about the implication someone dressed as a police officer was extorting money from people? Because tens of Rio police officers were convicted of doing that exact thing within the past two years. What hit a nerve was not the audacity of Lochte’s “fantastical” false claim, it was how close it hit to truth.
Lochte and his cohorts were irresponsible. They weren’t entirely honest about how they arrived in that situation. With alcohol intake and language barrier playing a role, they were hazy about the precise details. Fine. But, those claiming authority on American values should be more concerned about the rule of law and constraints on the arbitrary exercise of power, perhaps the most basic ideals America stands for.
American swimmers may have damaged the gas station in an intoxicated state. That doesn’t make “public agents” pulling a gun on them and extorting compensation in excess of the damage inflicted righteous or reasonable. Civil society is supposed to protect you from that.
Nor does it justify police holding the swimmers out as scapegoats or extorting them further to avoid what in the circumstances would probably not be a fair prosecution for a crime that even the judge admitted was “not that serious.”
Ryan Lochte and friends being drunken doofuses and mishandling the aftermath did not detract from the Olympics. The media fled for a far more interesting story than tabulating bland track and field results.
What did detract from the Olympics is the head of the European Olympic Committees being rousted naked from his hotel room for his alleged involvement in a multi-million-dollar ticketing scam that even deposed FIFA dons would have found excessive. Somehow, that was less interesting.