Why Ryan Lochte’s Apology Was A Belly Flop

Last weekend, Ryan Lochte—the 12-time Olympic swimming medalist—claimed he was robbed at gunpoint. Here’s what he told NBC News about the alleged incident:

“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over,” 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.

“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”

Ryna Lochte NBC News
Almost immediately, Brazilian officials cast doubt on Lochte’s story—and it didn’t take long before the media figured out he was lying. From The New York Times:

At the gas station, which is in Barra da Tijuca, on the route to the athletes’ village, the swimmers went to the bathroom. In the process, according to the account by investigators, damage was done to the bathroom door and a discussion ensued with the manager and a security guard.

Someone at the gas station called the police, but by the time a police car arrived at the scene, the swimmers were gone. Witnesses, including a person who offered to translate for the swimmers, said that they paid money to the manager before leaving.

Vox put it a bit more pointedly:

This international commotion could have been spurred by a boy who didn’t want to tell his mother the real reason he was getting home late.

The U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S Swimming both released statements that made clear they weren’t pleased with Lochte’s antics. And rather predictably, “Swim Shady’s” already murky reputation has taken a beating at home.

Ryan Lochte New York Post Ugly American.1jpgRyan Lochte New York Daily News Loch Mess Monster1

Lochte finally released an apology. It was a belly flop. 

“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. I waited to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.

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. I am very proud to represent my country in Olympic competition and this was a situation that could and should have been avoided. I accept responsibility for my role in this happening and have learned some valuable lessons.

I am grateful for my USA Swimming teammates and the USOC and appreciate all of the efforts of the IOC, the Rio ’16 Host Committee and the people of Brazil who welcomed us to Rio and worked so hard to make sure that these Olympic Games provided a lifetime of great new memories. There has already been too much said and too many valuable resources dedicated to what happened last weekend, so I hope we spend our time celebrating the great stories and performances of these Games and look ahead to celebrating future successes.”

Let’s parse that a bit.

First, the problem wasn’t that he should have been more “careful” in describing the events. It’s that he fabricated a story to cover up his own bad behavior. He lied, period, which embarrassed the host country and distracted from the accomplishments of his fellow athletes.

Second, the second paragraph’s first sentence seeks to render himself a victim. The time to claim being traumatized ended the moment he invented a story to cover his actions. He needed to issue an unequivocal apology without any hedged language. The moment the word “but” crept into that sentence, he failed.

Third, his line that he has “learned some valuable lessons” strikes me as perfunctory and insincere. Did a 32-year-old man really need this incident to learn that inventing a fake armed robbery story and defending it in the international press was wrong?  

It’s too bad Lochte didn’t look to a fellow athlete — U.S. soccer champ Abby Wambach — who was arrested for driving under the influence earlier this year. Her apology minced no words and got to the point quickly — and, as a result, her story was out of the headlines quickly.

Last night I was arrested for DUI in Portland after dinner at a friend’s house.

Those that know me, know that I have always demanded excellence from myself. I have let myself and others down.

I take full responsibility for my actions. This is all on me. I promise that I will do whatever it takes to ensure that my horrible mistake is never repeated.

I am so sorry to my family, friends, fans and those that look to follow a better example.

– Abby

In my view, the over-saturation media coverage of this incident has reached the point of overkill. Lochte made a dumb mistake, but with time, many people will forget about it and allow Lochte to move ahead with his career (including reality television). But he can help spur and speed that cycle by coming clean and shutting up.