American Olympic swimmer and occasional reality star Ryan Lochte has been named the ringleader behind a fabricated story of a robbery that never occurred during a night out in Rio de Janeiro. The incident has been dubbed #LochteGate, or in some circles, #LochteMess. Either way, the very tangled story has revealed what we already know about white privilege and the lingering problems the nation faces among other countries.
The incident happened last weekend (Aug. 14) when Lochte claimed he and fellow swimmers Gunnar Bentz, James Feigen, and Jack Conger were robbed by men disguised as police officers after leaving a bar in a taxi. Quick, but ignorant instincts lead many to believe Lochte, who sent out an Instagram message to fans (and a text to his mother) shortly after it was reported by the media outlets. After all, a few click-bait headlines about the continuous issues in Rio before the Olympic games gave the athlete’s story a piece of credibility. Even Lochte’s reported quote of saying “whatever” during an interview with celebrity journalist Billy Bush as the robber held a gun to his head was quickly overlooked.
Thanks to the power of CCTV, the much-sympathetic story was decimated after it was revealed the swimmers vandalized a gas station. An armed security guard reportedly approached them after the swimmers broke a door trying to get into the bathroom. During a press conference, Brazilian police admit that the swimmers paid money to the store’s manager before they took off. While the incident was simple and non-life threatening, their alleged frightening experience made Rio’s reputation worse.
Other athletes in Rio such as Carmelo Anthony have treated the city as their hometowns, opening up a conversation about respect when it comes to diving into unknown waters. The NBA star even used his day off to play ball with kids in the city’s favelas.
The good deed barely saw the top of a news site “must-read” list, but Gabby Douglas’ standing salute during the US national anthem caused thinned hairs to be ripped out of the heads of critics. The International Olympic Committee did little to defend Douglas but came to the defense of Lochte and his morally corrupt crew by calling the 20 and 30-somethings as “kids” who made a mistake.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) August 18, 2016
It’s not hard to see the privilege that reigns supreme over the black and brown people of Rio. Brian Winter, vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, tells NY Times the incident is bigger than a broken bathroom door. “This incident has caused so much damage to Rio’s brand abroad that I think Brazilians deserve a clear, consistent account of what happened,” Winter said. “The entire episode has tapped into one of Brazilians’ biggest pet peeves — gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it.”
As police seek to indict Lochte and the other swimmers for falsely reporting a crime, #LochteGate kicked off on social media and didn’t stop there. Stephen A. Smith slammed Lochte for lying about a drunken night out. “You went to the Olympics to represent your country,” Smith said via Complex. “You’re representing your country, you’re supposed to be as upstanding as you are. To fabricate a story to cover yourself, it probably ended up being way bigger than you imagined, but you still look like a damn liar, and you have now embarrassed yourself, and that’s unfortunate.”
Yes, the incident is unfortunate, but as the smoke continues to clear out, new clouds form since it’s painfully clear America–as a whole– will now have to deal with the repercussions. Leaving his homies in Rio to cover up the crime, Lochte was seen just days later on Instagram making birthday videos without much care in the world.
It’s a move we’ve seen from other celebrities who don’t take responsibility for their actions until the social media taunts and memes are just too much to take. Bentz and Conger were free to leave Brazil Thursday evening. When asked if they will apologize for lying, then men remained quiet.
— Gadi Schwartz (@GadiNBC) August 19, 2016
Lochte may or may not do the same, but only time will tell how far his privilege will take him.