Before he became known as the ultimate symbol of U.S. arrogance, white privilege and the delusion of American exceptionalism, Ryan Lochte seemed like a relatively harmless dudebro who we all forgave for being a douche because he won swim races and has a very symmetrical face. He even seemed to be in on, and playing along with the joke, as much as he was capable of getting it, cameoing as a sex idiot on 30 Rock (“I get to play myself…so, it’s not too much acting that I have to do,” he really, no kidding, actually said); reducing TV anchors to tears of laughter over his general confusion about almost everything; trying to copyright a stupid term he didn’t even invent; and being the good-natured butt of parodic skits put on by his own teammates.
That all changed recently when Lochte and some of his Olympic swimmer buddies—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen—went out, got wasted, trashed a Rio gas station bathroom, and then fabricated a story about being held up at gunpoint by scary, brown Brazilian criminals. Inconsistencies in the retelling and security footage led to the story quickly unraveling, until confessions were ultimately made—by Lochte’s teammates. Not so much by the swimmer himself.
It would be yet another big, dumb Lochte goof if it wasn’t so despicable. Here are a few reasons why, thanks to this whole #LochMess (or #LochGate if you prefer) of his own making, Ryan Lochte is the worst.
1. For the sheer douchebaggery, privilege, ego, disrespect and insult on display by Lochte and his teammates in the actual, true version of what happened that night.
Look, you want to get hammered till 6am after years of swimming your ass off to qualify for, and then actually competing in the Olympics? Have at it; who cares. But you don’t—as Conger and Bentz’s own lawyer reports, according to the Washington Post—show up at a gas station to use the restroom, and finding it locked, tear the door off its frame and pee on the building. While you’re at it, you also do not—as Lochte reportedly did, for no reason—“punch an advertisement in a metal frame, which fell noisily to the ground and attracted the attention of staff.” You also, to continue a theme, don’t refuse to pay for the damage you did and instead make up a story about being robbed at gunpoint.
I know that International Olympic Committee spokesman Greg Wyshynski thinks, as he tweeted a couple days ago, that Lochte is just a 32-year-old “kid” (which is not even a thing, sorry) who came to Rio “to have fun” who should be given “a break.” But that is a garbage excuse, and no.
2. For dreaming up the story in the first place.
Since everyone involved in this mess has a very recent track record of lying, it’s hard to know who to believe on anything, but according to teammates, the robbery story was Lochte’s idea. Several reports indicate Lochte probably made up the whole thing because he didn’t want his mother to know he was out getting shitfaced.
3. For bothering to add the extra detail of making himself a tough guy badass of action film proportions.
It wasn’t enough, apparently, for Lochte to lie about the whole thing and then hope the truth didn’t get out. Instead, he had to go on the Today Show and tell a version of the story filled with frills and bells and whistles. One of these was that the (imaginary) assailant put the (imaginary) gun directly to his forehead. The other is that Lochte was so brave and bold he resisted the gun-wielding attacker’s commands and even gave him some lip while his teammates cowered on the ground.
Fast-forward to 2:05 in the video below to watch him tell the story in his own words:
“They pulled out their guns and 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.’ And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and said get down. And I was like—I put my hands up. I was like, ‘Whatever.’”
4. For ditching his teammates and getting out of dodge as soon as he possibly could.
It is super, extra cool of Lochte (and Feigen) to have caught his flight back to the U.S. and gotten the hell out of Brazil before the authorities could seize his passport and hold him for questioning, as they did with the two other involved teammates. I know that once a drunken lie turns into an international incident, few people are likely to stick around the scene of the (totally not real) crime. But this is just more fuel for the gigantic manure fire.
5. For tweeting this kind of ridiculousness while the entire world was discussing how the whole thing was a massive lie.
6. For exploiting racism, fear of the other and white Western privilege.
Intertwined with coverage of feats of American strength, endurance and Olympic medal wins has been the narrative of Rio de Janeiro as a poor, dangerous place where athletes face threats of Zika, sewage-infested waterways, chemically tainted pools, crappy lodgings and pervasive crime. Its citizens, many of whom were displaced from their homes even as billions were poured into the games, are overwhelmingly black and brown. The stereotype of the innocent white tourist being shaken down by scaaaary Third World criminals is one Lochte and company were fully aware of and used to their advantage. (For the record, Ryan Lochte is Cuban-American. He presents, unquestionably, as a heterosexual white American male.)
As Damon Young wrote at VSB, “They know their reckless behavior will be dismissed as boys being boys—even if they’re in their f**king 30s — and they know they can lie and charm and privilege their way into receiving the benefit of the doubt. They made up that story because there’s no reason for them not to believe that anyone would doubt their word; ultimately betting that Rio’s already shaky reputation would allow their story to go unchallenged.”
During an Olympics in which 20-year-old African-American gymnast and gold medalist Gabby Douglas has faced all kinds of ridiculous criticism for issues I’m not going to bother dignifying with a citation, Lochte’s lie drives home the pricelessness of white male privilege. Nick Wright, of Fox Sports, wondered aloud about the difference in the reaction had a group of black athletes gotten drunk, fabricated a story about being held up, lied to the police, and then had their b.s. uncovered.
7. For issuing an apology that was totally not an apology.
First of all, if you have ever seen words come out of Ryan Lochte’s mouth, and you read his “apology” on social media, you will instantly know there is no way he wrote, nor was allowed to contribute to this letter. So, this one’s directed to his PR team, I guess, or whoever had to weave this pile of non-admissions and sorry-not-sorrys together:
“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 and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics.”
“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, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that I am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the hosts of this great event.”
Do you see it? The convenient omission of what, precisely, his “behavior” actually entailed? The reliance, even still, on the trope of the frightening foreign “stranger”—in whose country you are a guest—speaking gibberish demands at you? The non-mention of the fact that the group was reportedly asked to pay $50 for the damage they’d done and refused? The use of the phrase “regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night,” which serves to distract from Lochte’s own behavior, which again, he never quite gets around to acknowledging?
Kudos to his PR team for a job of ducking and dodging that proves they earn their cut.
8. For exemplifying the most loathsome of ugly Americanness to an international audience.
This one doesn’t need an explainer. There’s plenty of this behavior on vivid and gross display right here at home, broadcast internationally via mass media, for the world to see in its disgusting glory.
Thanks for taking it abroad.