Just desserts – When a lie turns into a scandal
When I wrote about the disastrous results of lying, particularly when lying to the public, the Ryan Lochte “robbery” incident had not yet occurred at the Rio Olympics. How the story developed and what the results were, simply prove yet again; do not lie, the truth will come out and things will get messy. Just man up, tell the truth, and face the consequences. There are “big lies”, obviously, like the Russian state-orchestrated program of doping and cover-ups that led to Russia being banned from the Paralympic Games. But the omissions and exaggerations that Lochte himself has confessed to are lies all the same, even if they are small by comparison. It must have been a very bad few weeks for the communications division of USOC (United States Olympic Committee) that manages media inquiries for the organization and for the U.S. teams that compete in the Olympic Games. What made it particularly bad was that Lochte had given a false statement to the Brazilian police, and then dug his own grave by repeating and embellishing those false statements in a TV interview. He is now being mentioned with “disgraced” in front of his name, and will be remembered for his medals but also for this affair.
Timeline – 14 to 23 August 2016
- Sun. 14 August: In a television interview with Billy Bush on NBC’s Today Show, recorded on a beach, Ryan Lochte claimed that early in the morning of Sunday, 14 August, after leaving a party in a taxi, he and his swimming team mates, James Feigen, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz, were threatened and robbed at gunpoint by people posing as police officers.
- Sun. 14 August: (12:58 P.M. (ET) USOC spokesperson Patrick Sandusky issued a statement repeating Lochte’s report: “According to four members of the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team (Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, Jimmy Feigen and Ryan Lochte), they left France House early Sunday morning in a taxi headed for the Olympic Village. Their taxi was stopped by individuals posing as armed police officers who demanded the athletes’ money and other personal belongings. All four athletes are safe and cooperating with authorities.”
- Mon. 15 August: Lachte’s story was questioned by authorities and proven to be untrue by video footage, including the times stated by Lochte that he and his friends left Club France where they had attended the party, and the events at the gas station.
- Tues. 16 August: Lochte flew back to the USA.
- Wed. 17 August: Two of the swimmers who were with Lochte during this incident, Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz were unable to board their plane to the USA and detained in Brazil for questioning by authorities.
- Wed. 17 August: Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz contradicted Lochte’s statement, and told police that “when one of them was unable to open a bathroom door at a gas station, a few of them broke it down”, according to an anonymous Brazilian police official in an interview with the Associated Press (AP). This reportedly then prompted a confrontation with a security guard, the details of which remain unclear.
- Thurs. 18 August: The Brazilian Police questioned Lochte’s account at an internationally televised news conference. They said he had fabricated his description of the episode, damaging Rio’s image at its moment on the global stage. “We saw our city stained by a fantastical version,” said Fernando Veloso, the Civil Police chief for the state of Rio de Janeiro.
- Thurs. 18 August: (11:19 p.m. BRT): USOC CEO Scott Blackmun issued a statement saying that Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger had given statements to local authorities regarding the incident first reported on Sunday, August 14, 2016. Their passports were released and they departed Rio.
The statement also provided a different version of the incident: “They [the four athletes] 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.”
- Thurs. 18 August: In the same statement, USOC CEO Scott Blackmun called the incident “a distracting ordeal”, and apologized “to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil”.
- Thurs. 18 August: A U.S. State Department spokesperson acknowledged the incident and said it was “ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance.”
After questions emerged about the incident reported by Lochte, International Olympic Committee spokesperson Mario Andrada said: “No apologies from [Lochte] or other athletes are needed. We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun. Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”
- Friday 19 August: Today Show host Al Roker told Natalie Morales and Billy Bush on TV: “He lied. He lied to you, he lied to Matt Lauer, lied to his mom. He left his teammates hanging while he skedaddled. … There was no robbery, there was no pull-over, nobody cocked a gun to his head, he lied!”
- Friday 19 August: Breno Melaragno, the lawyer of the 4th swimmer involved in the incident, James Feigen, stated that Feigen will “donate” $10,800 and have his passport returned: “After long deliberation, this agreement was reached … he will donate 35,000 real [about $10,800] to an institute, and with that the case is resolved.”.
- 20 August: Lochte said in a television interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer, he had “left details out” and “over-exaggerated some parts of the story”.
- 23 August: Ryan Lochte said: “I made a mistake and I definitely learned from this. They put on a great Games… and my immature, intoxicated behaviour tarnished that a little.” He did not say, I’m sorry I lied, not even in his letter of apology.
Interesting that those words, I made a mistake and I definitely learned from this, are the same ones used in 2013 by University of Washington’s junior receiver in the Husky team, Kasen Williams, when he addressed the media for the first time after his alcohol-related arrest in Chelan County.
- 23 August: Four companies withdrew their multi-million dollar sponsorship of Ryan Lochte, namely swimwear manufacturer Speedo and fashion label Ralph Lauren, skin care firm Syneron-Candela and Japanese mattress maker Airweave.
So, there you have it. If Lochte had simply told the truth, there would not have been such an outcry, the Brazilians would not have been outraged, the Olympic committee would not have looked like they support a cover-up, the reputation of his team mates would not have been damaged, his team mate James Feigen would not have lost thousands of dollars, Lochte would not have lost his million-dollar sponsorship, he would not have cheesed-off the media, and moreover, he would not have gained a reputation for being both a wuss (he said he was afraid that if he told the real story he would “get into trouble”) and a bare-faced liar. And if you tell lies, what else are you capable of?