This summer’s XXXI Olympiad has been a historic one for U.S.—and, hey, after the year we’ve had thus far, it’s nice to have something we can be blindly patriotic about. Simone Biles established herself as one of the most dominant female gymnasts ever; Michael Phelps padded his lead as the most-decorated Olympian in history; and Katie Ledecky obliterated world records in women’s swimming.
The only blemish has been Ryan Lochte, who seems destined to be remembered as the world’s foremost ugly entitled white American fuccboi tourist.
Last weekend, Lochte told the media he and three other U.S. Olympic team swimmers were robbed at gunpoint in the wee hours while coming home from a party — an account that is quickly revealing itself to be one big fucking lie. Two of the swimmers present reportedly ratted out Lochte, saying his story was fabricated. Instead, it appears the four vandalized a Shell gas station and tried to pay off the security guards present with the equivalent of about $50.
As to why Lochte would cook up such an outlandish lie — going so far to say that one of the “robbers” pressed a cocked gun to his forehead — who the hell knows? He is, after all, not the smartest man to ever represent America at the Olympics. This is the same guy who once spent $25,000 on an American flag grill. The guy whose catchphrase was “Jeah!” The guy who dyed his hair frosty blue before the Olympics without realizing chemicals in the pool would turn it green. He obviously does not think things through, so his motivations are tough to discern.
What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is that Lochte committed a seemingly minor, forgivable infraction only to make the incident infinitely worse by lying through his grill about it, concocting the kind of red-herring counter-narrative that only a mischievous teenage boy could appreciate. And now the bizarre saga has spiraled into a Olympic-sized controversy about sovereignty, international law and privileged white dude entitlement, because Lochte embodies some the worst parts of American culture, and he has for years.
Lochte rocketed to stardom after the 2012 Summer Olympics in London partially because, yes, he’s an amazingly talented swimmer—but mostly because he was the hotter, more blatantly ridiculous alternative to the rigid Phelps. Whereas Phelps was stoic, Lochte was a lovable doofus. And the grills, the stupid catchphrase, the stories about him ditching his girlfriend so he could hook up with scores of women in London — they all played into his image as a lovable scamp. There were plenty of Olympians better suited to represent the U.S. in London, but Americans clung to Lochte — the stereotypical oblivious Lothario jock — and lionized him for exactly those reasons.
It’s only now that Lochte is being taken to task for the very qualities that once earned him a reality show. He quickly went from adorable rascal to epitomizing the disrespectful, ethnocentric American abroad. But nothing has really changed about Lochte. He’s always been this way.
As recently as last week, Lochte had taken on a slightly tragic air after he said, “I’d be like the Michael Phelps of swimming if [Phelps] wasn’t there.”
It must be devastating, people thought, to devote your entire life to a single skill, only to routinely come in second place because you happened to live in the same era as that skill’s greatest practitioner.
But any sympathy Lochte engendered has been swiftly cast aside.
The crime itself, breaking down the door to a gas station bathroom, isn’t that bad. The real issue is that Lochte broke the law and, rather than answer for it, tried to lie and pay his way out of the mess—consequently painting Brazil as a lawless land crawling with thieves and crooked cops.
And that’s what Brazil is angry about. Brazilian authorities are adamant about holding Lochte & co accountable for falsely reporting a crime. They pulled two of the swimmers off a plane on Wednesday moments before they were due to fly back to the States, and they’ve barred a third from leaving the country. (Lochte had already flown back home by the time this incident exploded.)
A Brazilian judge has requested the swimmers pay a fine to a nongovernmental organization in Brazil that does humanitarian work. The fine is largely symbolic, though.
What Brazilians really want is acknowledgement Lochte acted like an asshole, and for Americans to realize they can’t travel to Brazil and expect to treat the locals as second-class world citizens—that Brazil is not some glorified colony where frat boy Americans can flout the law and run roughshod over the legal system.
“These guys from abroad think they’re superior to us, that they can come here, make a mess, lie about it and stain the image of Brazil,” 28-year-old waiter Airton Rocha told The New York Times in an interview. “Well, the law is the law, and it should apply to everyone in the same way.”
Perhaps the greatest thing about the Olympics is that it offers a distraction from all that’s wrong with America — Trump supporters, guns, Trump supporters with guns — so we can just enjoy watching fellow Americans non-violently kick some ass.
Unfortunately, Lochte gave us a sobering reminder that many Americans have a callous disregard for the less privileged, and that sometimes we make those douchebags famous.