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“…It’s the same message that we as a culture send to our professional athletes; and that is that they are above the law. If these boys cannot honour the simple rules of a basketball contract, how long do you think it will be before they’re out there breaking the law?” – Coach Carter.
This is one of the few lines that has stuck with me from one of my favourite movies of all time. Movies such as these, hope to impart wisdom on the younger generation, a truth about decency and respect for a fellow human beings, but more so for yourself be it as an athlete or a regular Joe. See also Remember The Titans.
Before the Olympics started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was steeped in controversy. There was talk about poor sleeping facilities, sub-par equipment, stadiums near collapse, bad water, residents who did not want any part of the Olympics, neighbourhoods demolished to build venues for the event they did not want to host, and not to forget the Zika virus that has swept much of South America. The world was sceptical; aspersions were cast as to whether the host nation would live up to its expectation and the hype created when the torch was passed on four years ago at the end of London 2012. It was never going to be easy to follow up such a spectacular show in London, one of the best ever held. They had enough working against them without the help of an asshole named Ryan Lochte to further mar the nation in uglier controversy.
During the games the pools did turn green, seats were empty in arenas, tales of murder in favelas were rife, a bullet was shot into the media centre of the equestrian arena, Rio, despite its beauty and culture and essence, is a country battling its own demons; gang wars in the favelas, political and socio-economic instability. For most, this is every day, but no country is without its share of demons.
And then there is Ryan Lochte, low rent fuckboy that he is, starting up some shit because he is so blinded by his privilege he knows no consequences. On Sunday morning the 14th of August, news broke that Lochte and three other US swimmers- Gunnar Bentz, Jimmy Feigen and Jack Conger were robbed at gun point. At first I saw a tweet about it from the BBC and then another tweet stating they weren’t robbed, but moments later the former story gained traction and the world would be held by this bizarre series of event that would unravel before our eyes. Lochte’s account of the events itself was in super hero style only an entitled white boy with a complex can conjure up. “they pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get on the ground- they got down… I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not getting down on the ground (of course!! At this point I don’t know why he isn’t wearing a cape) He continues, “and then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, get down and I put my hands up like whatever…’ bloody fool has been watching way too many Steven Segal.
It didn’t take long for this bullshit story to fall to pieces and expose Lochte, Bentz, Feigen and Conger for the overly privilege and entitled athletes they are. Chief Fernando Veloso, after carrying out an investigation stated that there was no evidence to support Lochte’s story and with his own evidence it became clearer that these idiots not only lied, but they were the cause of the disturbance. Their taxi pulled up at a gas station because they wanted to use the bathroom upon finding the door locked, they were so pressed and enraged they thought it best to kick the door open, and literally took the piss all over the walls and grounds outside the bathroom, before ripping up some posters. Really? That’s it? Ripping up posters and pissing all over the place is the best they could come up with? An argument ensued with the secutriy guards at the station who tried to hold Lochte and co accountable but per Gunnar’s version of the events, he threw a tantrum. The police were called and the athletes were told to pay for the damages to the amount of $50. Must be nice to live such a life.
First of all, who the fuck vandalises a gas station bathroom? Second, and more important, how this went from four stupid boys telling fibs to an international incident is even more bizarre, but it tells a story of brazenness steeped so deep in the belief that consequence for one’s actions is a foreign idea to the white male athlete, a notion that has its roots in white supremacy. It is after all how slavery started; the idea that because of his skin colour, the white man supersedes all other races and therefore has the right to trade in human beings, steal from them, rape them, kill them and abuse them as they see fit knowing these actions will go unpunished because of that supremacy. Lochte’s actions are one of a man, not a boy, who has been brought up in a society that endorses these practises that remain today. Those who have come to his defence have laughed off as youthful exuberance with a pat on the back type of response, ‘boys will be boys’ ‘He’s just a kid.’ But a few days prior Gabby Douglas was lambasted, by those who will never amount to much more than criticising a young black woman chasing after her dreams, for not putting her hands on her heart during the national anthem. Fuck y’all, all y’all. And you know who was just a kid? Tamir Rice playing with his toy in the park before he was shot dead by a cop. You know who else? Mike Brown 18, Trayvon Martin 17, all kids gunned down for no reason other than being black in America. Vilified, reputations smeared even in death. Ryan Lochte is a 32 year old man who ought to know better.
Let’s look at the grand scale of this lie; for this was not just a lie to get Lochte out of trouble with his mother, this was a lie with deep and far reaching consequences for the people who hosted the world. The ones who will go on to bear the brunt of the gaping economic black hole they will find themselves in long after the Olympics are over, the ones who will live with infrastructures they cannot use, that will remind them of the games they did not want to host, and of the athletes who spat in the face of their hospitality. This was a lie against a nation, and for a fleeting moment the world believed the worst of her. This lie reared the ugly head of controversies that face developing countries such as Brazil, one that would taint its people and their traditions, paint them as savages and low lives. This was a lie that put in jeopardy the reputation of a country and by no small extent the economy and livelihood of many. This lie has real consequences for those who have to live in the aftermath. Consequences Lochte will more than likely never face, because he is white and male, and lives in a country that grants all kinds of privilege to people who fulfil those criteria. See Brock Turner and Ethan Couch, affluenza killing teen as cases in point.
In a half-assed, PR laden apology, Lochte eschewed admitting that his actions were dishonest whilst stoking the fires of stereotype by saying, “its traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country with a language barrier and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” This from an international athlete, a medalled Olympian who has likely seen more countries outside of the United States than most Americans. He’s a jerk. Even jerkier, was that insolent apology issued without a sense of consequence or humility. An apology that lacked in an apology.
Brazil’s reputation, like many developing nations, is bitter-sweet, but Lochte’s actions will go a long way to leave bitter taste in the mouths of many. Rio, like any other city in a developing country, is not the safest of places, it has its own share of violence and gang wars, drugs and crime, but for many, vulnerable and poor, it is home. That Lochte took advantage of these vulnerabilities to cover up his crime is the lowest form of humanity there is- exploiting a weakness because you see them as inferior to yourself. The same kind of mentality Brock Turner had when he raped that drunk girl and his father wrote that bullshit letter that did not for one word hold his son accountable for his actions. Where people like these are indulged in their insolence because of some above average athletic or artistic ability, that somehow makes society place them on a higher pedestal than others, history will always repeat itself.
The take away from this Olympics should have been a celebration of the different hues and colours that make up the world, an acknowledgement of the first, and hopefully not the last, games to be hosted in a South American country, leading the way for African nations, India, the Caribbean and other countries for whom this remains an unreal. Instead we have spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the antics of a moron and his even more idiotic cohorts, which in itself is an indictment of the world we live in today.