RIO DE JANEIRO — Ryan Lochte is the dumbest bell that ever rang. The 32-year-old swimmer is so landlocked in juvenility that he pulled an all-nighter with guys young enough to call him uncle. His story to NBC’s Billy “what-are-you-wearing” Bush had the quality of a kid exaggerating the size of a fish, and notice how he was the hero of every detail. That was always the most dubious, implausible part.
There is a special category of obnoxious American “bro” that Lochte represents, in his T-shirt and jeans and expensive suede footwear, which he showed off on social media that night at the party along with the price tag. “We’re 6k deep here,” he captioned it. Is there anything worse, in any country, than a bunch of entitled young drunks who break the furniture and pee on a wall? There is no translator needed for that one, no cultural norm that excuses it. If I had been working at that Brazilian gas station, I might have pulled a gun on them, too.
Jack Conger is 21. Gunnar Bentz is 20. James Feigen is 26. What a leader of young men Lochte is. You can see the bathroom door appear to burst out of its wooden frame on the security video, presumably when one of those oafs couldn’t open it and decided to kick it.
Look, having a gun drawn on you in the small hours was no doubt unnerving and an overreaction by the security guard. It’s even remotely possible that Lochte really did interpret the demand for cash as a “robbery” of sorts. But to do so, he had to be so impervious to his own odious punk behavior — and his view of that gas station had to be so low — that he didn’t think the vandalizing was worth anything. He must have thought Ryan Lochte’s pee was gold dust.
Inherent in all of Lochte’s statements in this controversy is a lack of respect. You suspect that is what drew such ire from Brazilian authorities, who made a massive public display out of jerking Conger and Bentz off a plane and detaining them for questioning and recommended charges against Lochte and Feigen. Lochte has played a trivial, frivolous game with the issue of Brazilian police ineffectualness and corruption. Two things are going on here: Lochte’s self-promoting prevarications and the sensitivity of Rio authorities, who have been portrayed as incapable of keeping athletes safe amid other Olympic breakdowns.
There have been a lot of genuine robberies of Olympic athletes and officials. A New Zealand athlete was kidnapped by fake police and driven to ATMs. Two Australian coaches were robbed at knifepoint on Ipanema Beach. After one of their athletes was robbed Tuesday morning, British track and field officials warned athletes that it is not worth the risk of going out, “given the current climate in Rio.”
The police need to show that fears are overstated and these Games are secure — though they are not, particularly — and the stupid Americans offered them something with which to save face. Fernando Veloso, the Civil Police chief, said that Lochte had “stained” the city by inventing a crime that didn’t happen.
Lochte’s conceit intersected with a delicate political issue, and it made a perfect storm. His claim to NBC that men posing as police pulled over the taxi and he heroically resisted the robbers with a gun pressed to his forehead was an especially ludicrous detail — and the very thing that drew the attention of authorities, who know full well that anyone who defies a bandit in Rio gets shot on the spot, and they don’t leave you with your cellphone.
In his shifting public accounts, Lochte never mentioned that busted-up bathroom. Now put yourself in the shoes of the overrun and pride-stung local police when they saw that video of the Americans returning to the Athletes’ Village a little after 6 a.m. so cheerfully buzzed, with Lochte blithely twirling his credential on a chain and all of them still in possession of their cellphones and watches.
Equal to his disrespect of the gas station owner and the police is Lochte’s disrespect to his fellow swimmers. First he portrayed his U.S. teammates as dropping to the ground while “I refused,” as if he alone had the temerity to remain standing. Yeah, right. This is a guy who apparently lied to his own mother. Then he flew home, leaving the younger swimmers to deal with the fallout. And when back in the United States, he made moronic postings on social media, deaf to the tension they were undergoing while detained in Rio, their passports seized.
The main quality Lochte has shown in all of this, apart from asininity, is obliviousness. First he tweeted about his hair, which he had dyed a silvery-white before the Games. Then on Thursday morning, even as Conger and Bentz were in a police station and authorities were mulling potential charges, he posted an idiotic video of himself. It was a distortion-lensed, cartoonish video of him babbling at his friend and fellow American swimmer Elizabeth Beisel. Lochte eventually deleted it. Which was too bad because it was a perfect portrait of a halfwit.
Lochte’s done as a public figure, of course. Which is probably the most effective form of justice for someone who apparently so craves attention. Oblivion is what he deserves.
More from Sally Jenkins: