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Ryan Lochte’s “Robbery” Casts a Pall Over Olympics

Ryan Lochte

Is it #LochteGate or #LochMess? Is this an unfair crusade against a quartet of American athletes or is this a fabricated little white lie that has become not so little and in the process, ruined what has otherwise been a mostly scandal-free Olympic Games for Rio de Janeiro?

That is the discussion that countless individuals have weighed in on through Twitter as they place their support either behind Ryan Lochte and the other three U.S. swimmers, or against him and what seems to be his false report of a robbery to cover up a crime that he and his teammates committed. Lochte claims he didn’t tell the police or the USOC initially because he was afraid the four men would get in trouble. That’s a reasonable fear for anybody to have if they left the Olympic Village, got drunk, vandalized a gas station bathroom, urinated in the street and acted belligerent when a security guard tried to, in the words of the Brazilian police chief Fernando Velaso, “control them.”

The incident was first reported Sunday, when a day after the Olympic swimming competitions concluded, 32-year-old Ryan Lochte, 20-year-old Gunnar Bentz, 21-year-old Jack Conger and 26-year-old James Feigen, spent the night at a party at the French hospitality house. Early that morning, the four headed back to the Olympic Village, only to stop at a gas station to use the restroom, where according to a statement released yesterday by Scott Blackmum, the U.S. Olympic Committee CEO, this is what occurred:

“As we understand it, the four athletes (Bentz, Conger, Feigen and Ryan Lochte) left France House early in the morning of August 14 in a taxi headed to the Olympic Village. They stopped at a gas station to use the restroom, where one of the athletes committed an act of vandalism. An argument ensued between the athletes and two armed gas station security staff, who displayed their weapons, ordered the athletes from their vehicle and demanded the athletes provide a monetary payment. Once the security officials received money from the athletes, the athletes were allowed to leave.”

Only, this was not the account of events that Lochte apparently relayed to his mother and she the media. Fox Sports was the one to break the story.

Once the details were out there, Lochte himself offered the first exclusive to Billy Bush of NBC TODAY, offering a chilling account of what he called an armed robbery of the four swimmers.

And this is when the floodgates began to open. Shortly after Lochte’s interview, the USOC put out its first statement, backing up Lochte’s account of the events as they happened. They mentioned that all four of the athletes were safe and would be cooperating with local authorities. As one would imagine to be customary, especially given the gravitas of national and international attention the Olympics brings, Brazilian police investigated the incident. It was then that holes began to emerge as not only could the officials not find the taxi driver or any witnesses, but the four swimmers themselves seemed to offer varying accounts of what had happened. At that time, only Feigen and Lochte had reportedly spoken to the police and with the story still developing and the two giving conflicting reports, both were ordered to surrender their passports and stay in Brazil until the manner was concluded. Lochte however, had already returned home to the United States the day prior and without extradition, there was little Brazil could do. So instead, they focused on the other two men involved, pulling both Bentz and Conger off of their flights and requiring them to stay and offer testimony.

While all of this was unfolding, Lochte again spoke with TODAY, this time to Matt Lauer. He reiterated the story and was emphatic that it was not a fabrication or a cover-up. He did however provide more details, including the fact that the gun was not cocked directly against his forehead but pointed in his general direction. He also added that the robbery occurred at a gas station, which supported the already circulating video evidence. However, Lochte continued to refer to the incident as a robbery, even as his two teammates would later tell the police no such incident had occurred and that Lochte, likely the one who committed the vandalism in the first place, was the one to concoct the story.

The youngest of the four, Gunnar and Bentz were allowed to leave the country and have since returned home. Feigen, who is literally paying the biggest price thanks to the incident and the false reporting of the crime, has settled his case to the tune of $10,800 US. As it seems if anyone was “robbed” because of all of this it was Feigen and it was Lochte, who managed to avoid all punishment, the one who robbed him. None of the four are being charged and an indictment is at this point, unlikely.

Following all of this, the USOC released the above statement, which in addition to providing the most up-to-date details they had, offered an apology to Rio and the people of Brazil, chastising the behavior of the four swimmers and saying, “the behavior of these athletes is not acceptable, nor does it represent the values of Team USA or the conduct of the vast majority of its members.”

While it seems that Lochte did in part tell the truth when reporting his accounts, the lies of omission as well as claiming the four were robbed when they were merely asked to pay for damages they themselves committed, is where the biggest travesty in all of this exists. Because prior to this embarrassingly making headline news, the Rio Olympics had, for the most part, been going off without a hitch. And given all of the potential question marks going in, what Rio pulled off was nothing short of a miracle. However, this story, even though false, still places a black mark over that and unnecessarily so, a black mark over Team USA.

As a result of Lochte’s lie, three young swimmers who were barely known, now have notoriety for all the wrong reasons. The biggest star of the four, Lochte himself, who earlier this morning offered what could be considered an apology, although it was only for his behavior on the night in question and not the lie which led to the scandal, is also in danger of losing sponsorships and could potentially face the biggest punishment in the form of fines or even a temporary ban. As he says in his “apology,” he hopes to put the incident behind him and hopes that the media does the same and focuses on “celebrating the great stories and performances of these Games and look ahead to celebrating future successes.”

Lochte’s reputation which was already quite colorful has been undeniably tarnished. His lie, even though like all lies held grains of truth, cast an unfortunate shadow over these Olympics and threatened to unfairly and unjustly ruin what has been in large part, a very successful event for the host country.

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