Rio Olympics 2016: Ryan Lochte's acts depict the worst form of white male privilege

Ryan Lochte, that human facsimile who doubles as an Olympic swimmer, has finally come clean about his claim that he and three teammates — Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz, and James Feigen — were robbed at a Rio de Janeiro gas station in the wee hours of Sunday, 14 August.

In an interview with Matt Lauer on NBC, Lochte admitted that there had never been a robbery and that he had made the story up. "I was intoxicated," Lochte said. "I was immature, and I made a stupid mistake. I'm human, and I'm just really sorry."

He also apologised to the country of Brazil, saying, "They put on a great Games. The people of Rio, the people of Brazil, they put on a great Games, and my immature, intoxicated behavior tarnished that a little. And I don't want that. I hope they can accept my apology."

Rio Olympics 2016: Ryan Lochtes acts depict the worst form of white male privilege

US' Ryan Lochte won one gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. AP

For those who are late to the story, Lochte claimed that he and his teammates were robbed at gunpoint at a gas station and that the gun had been pressed up against his forehead.

All it took for Lochte to come clean was a police investigation that found numerous holes in his story, video footage that contradicted his story, the police yanking two of his teammates off their flight so they could be questioned in the case, a lambasting on social media and in the press, and a non-apology apology that he put up on out on social media that failed to douse the flames he had fanned.

Of course, none of this explains why the 32-year-old Lochte felt the need to make-up this story and tell it to his mom in the first place. Mollie Hemmingway, writing for The Federalist, suggested, "If Lochte had just copped to getting into a drunken brawl with a bathroom stall, everyone would have laughed and said, 'That's our Lochte'!"

But I'd like to offer another hypothesis: Lochte suspected that if he had revealed what really happened, he and his teammates would be held up as examples of the boorish American, the kind of that can't hold their liquor, end up using a wall as a toilet and damage property because they don't know any better. And he didn't want to be that guy. He didn't want people going "That's our Lochte!"

But as Sally Jenkins put it for the Washington Post, "Is there anything worse, in any country than a bunch of entitled young drunks who break the furniture and pee on a wall? There is no translator need for that one, no cultural norm that excuses it."

So rather than expose himself to that risk, Lochte saw the chance to make himself the hero in the story and it wouldn't matter that he was throwing Brazil under the bus because the country had already taken a lot of stick in the press for its violence, crime and corruption. It didn't matter that the details were not true because they could have been true. Consciously or not, Lochte thought he could get away with it because he is a privileged white man talking about a common enough experience in a country filled with brown people.

After all, wouldn't you take the world of an Olympic champion? Especially a White American Olympic champion?

And the reaction would still be "That's our Lochte", but in this version, Lochte would be the hero and not the bum.

Except the Brazilian police took his story seriously, because, as Jenkins pointed in the same column, "The police need(ed) to show that fears are overstated and these Games are secure — though they are not, particularly — and the stupid Americans offered them something with which to save face."

Lochte initially doubled-down on his story, as those caught in a lie tend to do, but it was too late and he only dug a deeper hole for himself, in which he was found to be swimming naked.

In the end, Lochte had to cop not to only being the boorish American but has also become the poster boy for white privilege at these Olympics. Thankfully in this case, that didn't take him very far.

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Updated Date: Aug 21, 2016 15:06:16 IST

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