Even if you are unfamiliar with the details surrounding the Ryan Lochte scandal during the 2016 Rio Olympics—he misrepresented what he described as an “armed robbery”—you probably saw the trend “Lochtemess” on Twitter, as well as the subsequent internet jokes. As reported by CNN, what Lochte claimed was an armed robbery was in fact two armed security guards at a gas station confronting him and three other Team USA swimmers—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and James Feigen—after an act of vandalism occurred.
It was formally announced on Sept. 8 that the United States Olympic Committee and USA Swimming suspended Lochte for 10 months, and the other three swimmers will also face punishment for their actions. I applaud both organizations for taking the actions and subsequent fabrication presented by these men seriously.
These men, along with other athletes, are considered role models and representatives of our country and as such, they should be held to a certain standard and not be dismissed when they lack better judgment. Moreover, I hope that the organizations’ actions against the swimmers are a message that allowing athletes to remain untouchable despite bad behavior is no longer an acceptable practice.
When we are young, one of the first things that we are taught when we go anywhere new is that our actions represent not only ourselves, but also where we come from.
Throughout our lives we are constantly reminded of this lesson. Whether we represent our families when we meet new people, our schools when we go on class trips or our countries when we visit foreign nations, the same principle applies: set the proper example.
Lochte and his teammates failed to do so and as a result, reflected poorly on Team USA and our nation, and distracted the world from the great accomplishments that were made by numerous talented athletes.
Perhaps even more troubling is that the four swimmers clearly thought that they would be able to get away with lying about what truly occurred at the gas station and I think that is an indicator of the much larger aforementioned problem: athletes thinking that they are invincible. The problem is not only on the Olympic level though. Student athletes in particular have fallen under the spotlight more frequently over the past several years, not for their talent, but because of the culture surrounding them that feeds the notion that they are in some way superior.
The problem is largely identified on college campuses. The recent case of Brock Turner, a Stanford University student athlete who sexually assaulted a 22-year-old female, is an instance of college rape culture—in addition to male and class privilege—lessening the severity of his crimes.
Turner, who was sentenced to six months incarceration—an already absurdly short sentence—only served half of his sentence before his release on Sept. 2. Even though Turner will be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life, and although the actions of Lochte and the swimmers are by no means deserving of equal punishment to Turner, we must take these athletes off of their pedestal and acknowledge them as humans who when they err in judgment, must be given consequences.
I hope that Lochte’s suspension shows people, particularly young people who follow sports, that their actions matter. More so, I would also hope that the consequences the swimmers encounter show that no matter what your athletic abilities are, they will not protect you if your actions are illegal; you will suffer the consequences of your actions.