Ryan Lochte isn’t the only one to “over exaggerate” when it comes to that embarrassing incident at a Rio gas station.
The U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming got a little overzealous, too, with Lochte’s 10-month suspension.
That punishment, announced Thursday, is four months longer than the six months Michael Phelpsgot for a second DUI. That’s right. Lochte’s behavior, boorish as it most certainly was, was deemed worse than driving drunk, a misdeed that endangered actual lives. It’s also longer than some bans for doping, an offense that undermines the very nature of competition and fair play.
Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen, the other three swimmers with Lochte, all received four-month suspensions.
And that’s not all! Lochte also must forfeit the bonuses he got as a member of the gold-medal winning 4×200-meter freestyle relay team.
“As we have said previously, the behavior of these athletes was not acceptable,” USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun said in a statement. “It unfairly maligned our hosts and diverted attention away from the historic achievements of Team USA.”
No word on whether there’s a check on the way from the Rio police, whose own embellishments and money grab were as egregious as anything Lochte did — maybe even more so, given that they are sworn to uphold the law.
Look, it’s easy to pile on Lochte and say he’s getting everything he deserves. Despite his 12 Olympic medals, he was considered a clown long before he and three other U.S. swimmers acted like overserved adolescents. With his penchant for blinged-out grillz, his cringe-inducing reality TV show and that god-awful pre-Rio dye job, he is the Olympic version of a Kardashian.
When he trashed a bathroom, and then lied about it at every turn, Lochte epitomized every boorish thing the world hates about Americans. That includes most fellow Americans, by the way.
Except that narrative, like the early versions Lochte spun, isn’t quite true.
Yes, Lochte lied to USOC officials. He lied to NBC’s Billy Bush. He even lied to his own mother. The cab he and Feigen, Bentz and Conger were taking back to the athletes’ village after a night of partying at France House wasn’t pulled over by police. Nor was a gun put to Lochte’s forehead.
But his main claim, that he and the other three swimmers were held at gunpoint by law enforcement agents who wouldn’t allow them to leave without paying what was either damages or extortion, is true.
The other three swimmers have said as much, and witness and video surveillance tapes also have corroborated the account. Even Rio police chief Fernando Veloso acknowledged that the men working security at the gas station were off-duty police officers, and that they pulled their guns on the swimmers.
As for the story Veloso told about the swimmers trashing a bathroom? Allegations that, understandably, heightened tensions between the USOC and the IOC and Rio authorities and inflamed opinions about the swimmers?
A review of surveillance videos by USA TODAY found no evidence of any of the swimmers entering the bathroom. A USA TODAY Sports videographer who visited the Shell station four days after the incident found no damage to the soap dispenser or mirror, and said none of the items appeared to be new.
None of this is to say Lochte is an innocent who deserves no punishment. When you represent your country, there is an expectation and obligation you behave in a manner that befits the honor. If you don’t, expect there to be repercussions.
But a three- or four-month suspension, reprimand and a fine for Lochte, along with reprimands and probation for the others, would have been more appropriate.
Certainly more appropriate than punishing him more harshly than Phelps. More appropriate, too, when you consider that no member of the 1998 U.S. hockey team was ever held accountable for the $3,000 worth of damage done when they trashed their rooms at the Olympic Village in Nagano.
The players denied any wrongdoing — in laughable fashion, no less. Yet four years later, 13 members of that same team were allowed to wear the red, white and blue again, no questions asked.
Times are different now, however, and much more is at stake.
The USOC has spent a lot of time and effort over the last seven years to repair what had been a long-strained relationship. Los Angeles is bidding for the 2024 Summer Games, which would be the first Olympics in the United States in 22 years. For Lochte and Co. to jeopardize even an ounce of good will simply cannot be tolerated.
No one is condoning ugly Americanism, which makes all of us look bad. But if you set emotion aside and look simply at the actual facts, the punishments of Lochte and the other swimmers are unduly harsh.
By Nancy Armour
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.