React, Retract & Repeat: Ryan Lochte's Lie Says So Much About White Privilege

React, Retract & Repeat: Ryan Lochte's Lie Says So Much About White Privilege
Ryan Lochte Instagram

Ryan Lochte is the second most decorated U.S. Olympian Swimmer behind Michael Phelps.  Ryan Lochte is a famous American athlete.  Ryan Lochte is a white American male. Ryan Lochte is a liar.  In yet another instance of American millennial back tracking, Ryan Lochte and many of his peers are apologizing. The entitlement of millennial America combined with social media has created an environment of react and retract. We can have an immediate reaction to these types of stories and include any bias, racial stereotyping or plain ignorance because we can always apologize. 

Which is exactly what Ryan Lochte has did when claimed that he and three of his teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio. The story confirmed some of the worst fears about what we thought about Brazil. The story circulated quickly and Lochte was being viewed as a victim. We reacted accordingly, there's no way that Lochte couldn't have been robbed at gunpoint, it was inevitable. This was the same place where Brazilian first responders welcomed tourists at airports with signs that read "Welcome To Hell".  


In an interview with NBC's "Today" Lochte said, "They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn't do anything wrong, so — I'm not getting down on the ground." 

But footage from a closed circuit camera the night of the incident confirmed that Lochte was not telling the truth. Lochte along with his teammates Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen, stopped at a gas station in Barra da Tijuca, a suburb of Rio. The US Swimmers, who were actually intoxicated after a night of partying, vandalized a gas station bathroom and were questioned by armed guards. The "robbery" was actually a payment for the damages and they gave their wallets to the security guards. So basically a group of frat boys got drunk left the club, couldn't find a bathroom, decided to throw a tantrum and were confronted about the damage. 

To complicate things further was the response of Rio Olympics Spokesman Mario Andrada. “We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun,” Andrada told reporters during a press conference.  “Let's give these kids a break Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on."

Lochte is 32 years old and far from being a kid. He didn’t come to Rio to have fun, he was there to represent his country. Why was our first instinct to take the word of the white kids who were just "having fun?" What if the Brazilian Soccer team came to party in New York City and claimed they were robbed by some local thugs? What would that headline look like? The fact is whether it has something to do with class, race or culture we are prone to judge these types of incidents through a prism of bias. It's often after we realize that we're reacting poorly that we try and retract. 

Let’s look at the effect the react and retract dynamic has on athletes of color. U.S. Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas was publicly assassinated because she didn’t raise her hand to her heart during the American national anthem. One would think she committed an act of terrorism due to the public outrage. The public wasn’t quick to believe that DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins and DeMar Derozan, members of the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team; accidentally found themselves in a brothel in Rio. Maybe that was a bad example but as bad as it is, it proves a point. Why did we suspect Cousins, Jordan and Derozan didn't really "accidentally" end up in a brothel? 

Screenshot via Instagram c/o @gabbydouglas 

There’s always an out clause, the ability to retract once we're made aware of our  politically incorrect bias. What follows is the usual, "let's not pull the race card" or "we're beyond race" and the token apology.  For some reason America has an obsession with public apologies as much as public shaming. Locthe, issued an apology via Instagram (which you read below) but it does not change the fact that he fabricated a story. The Olympic spirit calls for the competitors to put aside race, politics, sexual orientation and religion in an effort to unify under athletics. Lochte’s decision to fabricate a story about being robbed to avoid shame has caused more embarrassment than if he had come clean. The true shame is that we are still having these conversations in 2016. 

As of this writing, Ryan Lochte has apologized again (you can watch below) and he’s lost his sponsorship with Speedo.  The USOC Ceo has promised that there will be additional punishment levied towards Lochte and his teammates. When the next Ryan Lochte type incident happens how should we react? Are we satisfied with how Lochte's has fallen from grace since his admission?  Stay tuned for more as this story continues to develop. 

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