One of the biggest stories this week revolves around U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte and his actions during The Games in Rio. Yesterday, a friend asked me why I thought the story had gotten this big and why was Lochte getting hammered as hard as he is. On the surface this seem like a story about some guys out late at night (or early in the morning), who had too much to drink, committed some minor vandalism, got caught, and, embarrassed, lied about it to hide their shame. I imagine this happens on almost every college campus in the country on, at least, a weekly if not a nightly basis with nothing more than a mention in the local police blotter. So, why is this an international news sensation with so much rancor and vitriol? My intention is not to argue the validity of this aggression from both the media and Lochte’s fellow U.S. citizens. It’s real, it’s happening, so trying to decide whether or not it’s justified is a futile conversation. Instead, I think it would be much more beneficial to take a look at why he’s receiving this treatment, and explore what we can apply in our own lives.
I know there was a little more going on during the night in question, but let’s just dump it all into the category of excessive drinking and poor, inhibited choices for this analysis. At some point after the age of twenty-five, “boys will be boys” stops being a valid explanation for behavior like this. If you’re on the heavy side of twenty or older, it’s time to start acting (and drinking) like a gentleman. I recommend drinking fewer, but higher quality, drinks. Know your limits.
Deservedly or undeservedly, Ryan Lochte, prior to Rio, already had a reputation as a arrogant, over-partying frat boy. It’s important to not place too much weight on what others think of you. However, you should still be aware of how you are generally perceived by others, if only to make sure that lines up with how you would like to be perceived by others. Keeping the scales tipped in the positive column will help you weather those times when you aren’t at your best.
We currently live in a culture where public shaming is accepted, expected, and even encouraged. Lochte is currently feeling the full impact of this. I personally think we have gone too far as a society in this. Calling out wrongdoing has merit, but when it transforms into some sort of “You’re a bad person, and I’m better than because…” personal ego boost is when it goes too far. We should look to our own positive actions to lift ourselves (and others) up instead of spring boarding off the failings of those others.
Lying and Cover Up:
I think if Lochte, and the other swimmers involved, had simply said, “We were out too late celebrating, had too much to drink, caused some damage at a gas station, and had to pay for that damage. It was stupid, and we’re incredibly sorry.” this would have been done and forgotten, and we would have moved on to the next news story. But by not coming clean, they propelled the story forward, almost daring the media to investigate further. The best way forward is to own your mistakes and take your lumps.
Fleeing the Country:
Personally, I’m on Lochte’s side on this one. Dealing with legal issues in a foreign court, especially in a country perceived as corrupt, is a terrifying prospect. Get home, let the State Department sort it out. However, I think many people viewed this as a cowardly move, cementing the idea that he wasn’t originally truthful. But sometimes a little self-preservation is not a bad idea.
That self-preservation did come at the expense of his fellow teammates. In a country where “leaving no one behind” is so celebrated and rewarded, the opposite would be chastised and punished. Lochte further compounded his trouble by choosing to not come forward later to speak in defense of his fellow swimmers still held in Brazil. When we see something wrong, and we know the truth, we should speak up. Never be afraid to come to the defense of another person.
Representing the United States:
Finally, this story was magnified by the fact that it occurred on a global stage during the Olympics. We (rightly) view our Olympic athletes as representing us. They are the best our country has to offer. As such, their behavior reflects on us as a country. We should be mindful of whom our actions represent. Whether it’s our employer, family, church, school, or even country, we should always do our best to act in a way which casts them in the best light possible.
Ryan Lochte’s mistakes are our reward. We can take this opportunity to poke fun at him and toss insults, or we can choose to learn and grow. Personally, I’ll pick the latter.