Before we put the Rio Summer Olympics completely behind us, let’s take one more opportunity to beat up on Ryan Lochte.
The swimming star so richly deserves all the criticism he has received. But I hope he also will serve as a vivid example of what not to do when caught in a situation in which you are obviously guilty of an act that was irredeemably stupid and inexcusable.
Lochte, as the whole world now knows, joined three other U.S. swimmers for a night on the town in Rio after they had finished competing. They did a lot of drinking.
Then, needing to relieve themselves, they descended on a gas station and asked to use the facilities. This is where things initially became fuzzy.
With Lochte doing most of the talking, the swimmers related a story of being confronted by an armed robber dressed as a cop who demanded their wallets and made off with some of the contents, but not credit cards or ID. At one point, Lochte said, the robber pointed the gun directly at his forehead.
But it didn’t take long for this whole anecdote to unravel. Brazilian authorities were dubious from the start, and eventually even a lazy American press corps became skeptical enough to dig into the story.
Lochte, who had fled the country before officials could stop him as they did the other three swimmers, began to walk back his account. Maybe the robber didn’t point the gun directly at his forehead. Well, maybe he wasn’t exactly a robber, either.
The real story (hey, guys, they have surveillance cameras in Brazil, too) was pieced together within a few days. The four party boys had ripped the door off the bathroom and urinated on the wall. They were confronted by a security guard, not robbed. They had acted like drunken punks, privileged athletes who thought they were above the law and showed no respect for the gas station owner or their host country.
And here is where the lesson comes in: When you have made a dimwitted mistake such as this, full disclosure and an abject apology not only represent the right thing to do but also the tactically smart approach.
If Lochte had said this from the start, he might have been regarded positively and maybe even have been seen as an adult: “We really messed up. I’m 32, older than the other guys, and I should have known better. I could blame the alcohol, but I won’t. What we did was disgraceful, and I make no excuses. I apologize to the wonderful, welcoming people of Brazil and to my own country for contributing to the image of the ugly American abroad. I will personally pay for any physical damage we caused.”
But he didn’t say that. And, apparently, he will never say anything like that.
Here is Lochte talking about the incident in the latest issue of People magazine: “It sucks that it was one of the main focuses of the Olympics. That’s what stinks. The media blew it up and talked about it. It got out of control, and this was all anyone could talk about. Everyone started watching it, and they didn’t watch the athletes. That’s another reason why I’m so hurt by it, because it took away from the games.”
See what he’s doing? He’s blaming the media! If the stupid media hadn’t caught him in a big lie, he would have gotten away with it and everyone would have been able to focus on the athletes instead. How sad.
Blaming the media can be effective, but it isn’t foolproof. I doubt that it will work for Lochte.
And I still maintain that the best recourse after getting caught making a stupid mistake is to tell the truth early and apologize.
Oh, and one more thing: Sincerely resolve not to do it again.
James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.