The Brouhaha in Brazil. My turn.

August 29, 2016

Over the course of the last two weeks, a great deal has been written about the hubbub involving the four U.S. Olympic swimmers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and in particular about Ryan Lochte. In spite of the urging of NBC commentator Rowdy Gaines with his Twitter “#moveon” campaign, there are more articles to be written, simply because there is still more news coming, not the least of which will be the announcement of any penalties to the four swimmers that might be imposed by USA Swimming, FINA, USOC, or the IOC. Furthermore, Lochte’s anticipated addition to the cast of Dancing with the Stars in mid-September will bring the matter back to conversation even if there is a temporary lull in the meantime.

It is my observation that during the week immediately following the “incident”, most of what was published or broadcast vilified Ryan Lochte. A great deal of what has been written since that time has been aimed at vilifying the Brazilian police and judicial system and most of the media that weighed in during week one. Symbolic of that first week is the piece by Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post with its harsh personal criticism of Lochte. Week two is well represented by Derek Hunter from Townhall who wrote a screed against the media using Lochte and the coverage of him as his pawn in making his larger point. There have been numerous other recent articles that reference a USA Today piece as the paragon in journalistic investigation and reporting. And for those so predisposed it is being used as the near-conclusive vindication of Lochte’s supposed framing by the powers-that-be in Brazil and the media. Those who are fond of that USA Today article use it to suggest that subsequent investigation “proves” that Lochte was correct in thinking he was robbed at gunpoint.

There is at least some level of agreement in the articles from week one and all those since that time. I have yet to see any denials of the following: Ryan Lochte and more than likely all three of the others in his group were intoxicated. They pee’d outdoors behind a gas station. Lochte removed and probably damaged an advertising sign that had been attached to the wall of the gas station. There were men serving as security guards who showed what appeared to be “police” badges to the swimmers. Those men also had drawn handguns. A combination of U.S. and Brazilian currency approximating US $50 was given by two of the swimmers to the men with badges and guns.  Lochte is not named among the two swimmers who gave the sum total of $50. There was a Brazilian passer-by who served as a translator between the swimmers and the men with the badges and guns.

There are a few more things that really ought to be beyond any doubt or questioning, although some of the details in the following list are occasionally present, occasionally missing from week one and subsequent articles, largely depending, it seems on a.) the object of ones vilification, that being either Lochte, OR the Brazilians and the media; and b.) whether or not they suit the author’s prevailing narrative of what happened during and after the incident at the gas station.

The devil is in the details…sometimes included and sometimes neglected

  1. Ryan Lochte told his mother about the events of the early morning in question, claiming to have been robbed at a party. This resulted in his mother contacting the media claiming that all four swimmers had their wallets stolen. It should be noted that it is impossible to know exactly what Lochte told his mother and whether she passed it along exactly as it was told by her son, or if she embellished it in any way. In any case, this was not Lochte’s first mistake that night and morning, as will be noted below, but without a doubt it was the one that served as the catalyst for the eruption that ensued. By Lochte’s own admission, had he not mentioned “something” to his mother and subsequently discussed it with NBC News (see below), NONE of what has been written since (including this blog post) would be necessary.
  2. Ryan Lochte “over-exaggerated” his account of the evening and morning to NBC’s Billy Bush. Using more conventional language, he lied to Billy Bush and he lied to the world by virtue of the reach of that recorded interview. He lied about being pulled over by a car with no lights, the cocking of a gun to his forehead, about having his wallet taken, and being robbed of $400 in cash. He may very well have also “over-exagerated” about his heroics in standing up to the “robber” prior to having the gun cocked and placed on his forehead. In fairness, at least one of his fellow swimmers did say Lochte disobeyed instructions and yelled at a man with a gun. (Stop for just a second and ponder that. No really, think about that. Think about not only the potentially dire consequences of that sort of behavior, but also how recklessly irresponsible it was.) Lochte now claims that he was still drunk at the time he talked to Bush. If that is true, it may be an explanation for the “over-exageration,” but one can only hope that no one uses his intoxication as a reason to excuse it.
  3. Ryan Lochte adjusted his story when confronted by NBC’s Matt Lauer a few days later but only after the story began to unravel in Rio and, it should be noted, after he was safely back in the U.S. Lochte still maintained he was robbed at gunpoint but without a gun to his head. According to Lauer, Lochte also categorically denied that his story was in any way being used to cover up other embarrassing behavior that night and morning. This, as it turns out, was also implicitly false as he himself has subsequently termed his overall conduct that night and morning as immature and that he is embarrassed by it.
  4. Insofar as the newspaper reports, witness statements and apology letters are concerned, Lochte never surrendered any money during the supposed robbery at gunpoint. Instead, it was Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen who handed over cash. And as will be noted below, at least two witness accounts indicate that there were conversations, even negotiations, and an understanding among the parties about the nature of that exchange. Not intending to split hairs here, but for those who are arguing that new evidence supports the idea that Lochte was justified in “thinking” he was being robbed at gunpoint, that line of reasoning falls apart when, as it turns out, HE WAS NOT ROBBED. If anyone could possibly make the claim of being robbed at gunpoint by virtue of handing over cash, it would be Bentz and Feigen. To my knowledge they have not specifically claimed to have been robbed. And if they have and I have missed it, then their personal integrity would need to come into question, as you will soon read, but those assertions would also stand contrary to other witness accounts, and common sense…keep reading.
  5. Jimmy Feigen has confessed to having “omitted facts” in his initial report to the Rio police. He said he did so for the protection of Lochte. If you are being intellectually honest, you must reasonably conclude that Feigen knew that Lochte had done something that needed to be obscured either during the incident at the gas station, or in the comments following it. For his being less than fully forthcoming with the Brazilian officials, Feigen agreed to pay a negotiated financial settlement to the Brazilians for filing that false police report that will in turn ostensibly be made as a donation to a Brazilian Judo academy. For those who think that punitive consequences for filing a false police report is unique to a “corrupt Brazilian system,” you might want to research the consequences of the same sort of dishonesty in the United States.
  6. Gunnar Bentz, who is age 20, appears to have deliberately violated an “order” given by USA Swimming Olympic Team Director Frank Busch. That order, as reported in the New York Times, stipulated that only those swimmers who were over the age of 21 years had permission to leave the athlete’s village on the evening in question. Further, according to the New York Times, the entire team was warned about the impact of foolish behavior on not just the participants, but the entire team. Bentz chose to disregard both the imposed age limit and the warning about impact to the team. I have read nothing about any consequences due him for his blatant act of disobedience of the Team Director.
  7. Jack Conger, while more than likely a party to the drunkenness and definitely to the urination, seems to be the most credible participant and witness to the entire evening and morning, given the character and integrity defects among the other three swimmers, described above. His after-incident statement says that it was understood by the parties that the money that was exchanged was compensation for damages caused by Lochte to the advertising sign, and was not a shakedown or robbery. It was suggested to me by Twitter user @Matt_DeLancey, who has since blocked me (apparently because inconvenient facts that run counter to his narrative will not be tolerated), that Conger’s statement was given under duress. That seems highly unlikely as I am citing Conger’s account from his apology statement that was issued and published after he had returned from Brazil to the U.S..
  8. Fernando Deluz, the “good Samaritan” disc jockey and providential translator is also a witness whose recollection of the interaction between the security guards and the swimmers seems fairly unimpeachable, particularly when it is independently corroborated by Conger in his statement. It is Deluz’ attestation that the money that was exchanged was for damages to the sign and NOT as a result of a robbery or shakedown by rogue cops moonlighting as security guards. Interestingly, the details of Deluz statement, (corroborated by Conger) is published in several places but most notably is found in the USA Today article that so many feel vindicates Lochte.
  9. The dollar amount that was exchanged was in the neighborhood of $50. While assigning a value to the damaged sign might be difficult, this amount hardly seems grossly out of line. But more importantly, that dollar amount seems rationally more consistent with an attempt to provide restitution for the vandalism than it does a robbery. If it was indeed a robbery, as Lochte claimed, is it plausible to any reasonable person that $50 would satisfy the perpetrators when we have been told that they perceived the foursome to be “rich American athletes”? And apparently, the foursome left with their wallets with money still in them as well as other valuables such as watches and cell phones. If this was a robbery the “criminals” who performed it had pretty low expectations for a payday and ought to be the laughingstock of all the other street criminals in Rio.

Other observations

On Wednesday last week I watched David Marsh’s live studio interview on the SEC-ESPN television network with Paul Finebaum. Marsh, has as much recent, close-in, personal experience with Lochte as nearly anyone, being his coach at SwimMAC Elite. Marsh was still scratching his head about Lochte’s conduct and cannot explain it and will not excuse it by trying to parse the facts to suit some narrative that is favorable to Lochte. This to me is very revealing as it comes from someone who knows him well and who has made a career of coaching and mentoring young people like Lochte. In that interview that can be downloaded here (find Hour 3, Aug. 24, 2016 and advance to approximately the 22 minute mark), I was unsettled by part of what Marsh said that speaks to the person that Ryan Lochte appears to be. Marsh said that when Lochte moved to Charlotte for the purpose of training with SwimMAC, he called Marsh during the process of moving his belonging in with his friend Cullen Jones. No overtures to Marsh in advance of his arrival to inquire if he could join the team. And similarly, Marsh found out that Lochte would be leaving SwimMAC to move to Los Angeles from announcements Lochte made to others while in Rio. No personal conversations, no exchange of messages or emails between Marsh and Lochte before a public announcement. I will leave to others with the appropriate background to diagnose the psychology behind this sort of conduct. As a layman, I will characterize it as entitled, presumptuous and inconsiderate. Marsh seemed gracious about it all, but you could still tell he thought it was more than just a bit odd, as did Paul Finebaum. If you have not heard this David Marsh interview I encourage you to take the time to listen. Marsh has as much insight into the character of Lochte as just about anyone. And you can hear both his bewilderment and regret.

Almost finished…wishing Lochte well.

Lochte has admitted he made mistakes and says he has taken full responsibility for them. We’ll see. Only time will tell. To the extent that he has now lost four of his sponsors, he will surly be feeling the weight of that responsibility. As David Marsh said, this will be a very expensive lesson for Lochte. But ultimately, what will make this go away and in turn produce a truly favorable outcome is a visible change in the actions and attitudes of Ryan Lochte.

In his televised interview with Matt Lauer there did seem to be contrition, particularly when he reflected upon the impact of his actions on his teammates who were “stranded” in Brazil.  I hope that was genuine and the regret intense enough to push him to an entirely new level of self-awareness. I wish him well. It would be a shame for his significant athletic accomplishments to become secondary because they are over-shadowed by his out-of-the-pool missteps. But that is where we are right now. He needs someone in his life who will push him to grow up to a level of emotional and behavioral maturity that approximates his physical age. While that person or group of people may exist, the last 4-plus years have not made that fact manifest in his life. In the near term, Lochte needs a kind of close supervision that most 32 year olds do not. That is sad, but I fear, true.

To those who are his confidants and close friends as well as those who are his most ardent fans and admirers, it is not unreasonable to expect Lochte to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3: 8) before full trust is restored. It’s not a matter of keeping a foot on his neck while he’s down, it is a matter of NOT settling for the kind of nonsense that he displayed in Rio and the immaturity he has demonstrated elsewhere and at other times. To his credit, he apparently has a big heart, but it resides next to what almost seems is a teenage mind, all contained in a grown man’s body. I hope he retains the one, and grows the other to match the person he is chronologically. It’s time to grow up!