RIO DE JANEIRO — Let’s say you’re a guest in someone’s home. You and your friends are invited to a dinner at which the hosts, though cash-strapped, do their level best to put out a nice spread and show you hospitality. You over-serve yourself on their liquor, stagger around drunk and tear a picture off the wall, then unzip your fly and urinate in their bushes. The morning after, the best you can muster to your hosts is some vague, mumbled regret for being a “distraction” from the party.
Here’s a new slogan for the U.S. Olympic Committee: “Leading the medal chart but dead last in apologies.” Ryan Lochte still doesn’t get it. His so-called apology was a lame, crisis-crafted statement that showed zero sincerity and no awareness of his affront to Brazil and, if anything, only added to the insult by continuing to suggest he’s somehow this country’s victim.
“I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend — for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning,” he parsed, via Instagram.
Hey, we can all be careless with our words. Which of us hasn’t falsely suggested we had a gun pressed to our foreheads?
“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave,” he continued.
True, it must be terrifying for a 32-year-old with more than a decade of international travel experience to party until almost 6 a.m. at Club France and then not be able to find a conveniently open bathroom stall at a gas station.
The worst part of this is that Lochte’s tone comes straight from the American top. Oh, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun issued his own well-meaning apology, and so did USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus. But they, like Lochte, seem to think his ultimate offense was stealing attention from other Olympians.
“We apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence,” Blackmun said.
Wielgus said: “The last five days have been difficult for our USA Swimming and United States Olympic families. . . . We do not condone the lapse in judgment and conduct that led us to this point. That this is drawing attention away from Team USA’s incredible accomplishments in the water and by other athletes across the Olympic Games is upsetting.”
None of them gets it. None of them gets why, at last count, around 1.8 million Brazilian people had gone on Rio2016’s Twitter account to register their outrage against Lochte and his junior swim club pals.
“It’s clear the Brazilian population felt humiliated,” Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said.
Maybe this will help: Imagine if Lochte was in Chicago or Cleveland or Detroit and concocted a vague story about being jacked by guys in hoodies. Would Americans be angry? Would they feel it was more than just a “distraction” and a “lapse?”
The Brazil police have released video from that pit stop early Sunday morning, and witnesses and lawyers for fellow USA swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and James Feigen have helped complete the picture of “events,” as well as non-events. Lochte apparently made up out of thin air, for NBC’s benefit, an account of bandits posing as police pulling over their taxi. He left out the part about the four being drunk, punching a sign and damaging a door, peeing on the walls and bushes of the station and drawing the ire of armed security guards. He also neglected to mention that a local man tried to help the swimmers by translating and that they pleaded with the guards not to call the police.
Lochte made a convenient self-promotional vehicle out of a city tortured by crime and poverty. There were nearly 11,000 street robberies here in June. The unemployment rate is 11 percent and expected to rise to 12 percent by next year. The Brazilian minimum wage amounts to $228 a month. It should not need to be stated that the gas station was someone’s business, someone’s wherewithal.
Lochte created a needless problem for a strung-out police force with pay issues, short supplies and the overwhelming task of trying to secure Rio during a Summer Olympics. They had to chase his bogusness for four days.
And his colleagues let him do it; they didn’t open their mouths to correct him, though they apparently knew instantly that what he told NBC was “a lie.” Feigen and Conger had yet to break their silence or issue their own apologies (Bentz issued a statement late Friday). Conger and Bentz skulked on a flight home and then hustled through a Miami airport without a word.
The reason they all thought they could get away with it? It was just a little Brazilian gas station. Who could possibly care about that? Who would ever notice?
“They thought this would be forgotten,” said Sergio Riera, the lawyer who got Bentz and Conger released. “They did not think it would have a more serious consequence.”
Here is what is missing from Lochte’s apology. Any sign of manners. Any sign of humility. Any sign of real regret. Any sense of where he had spent the past two weeks. And that is truly sorry.
For more by Sally Jenkins, visit washingtonpost.com/jenkins.