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Ryan Lochte’s Nonapology Is Bullshit

The 12-time Olympic medalist still thinks he’s a victim

Getty Images
Getty Images

You know the basics by now. Early last Sunday morning in Rio, 12-time medalist Ryan Lochte and three other U.S. Olympic swimmers — Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger — got drunk at a party, stopped at a gas station, (allegedly) peed on a wall, and (according to officials) broke down a bathroom door. They were then confronted by security guards who brandished guns and demanded that the swimmers get out of their car and pay a fine for the damages they had caused. The swimmers did so and left.

What came next revealed Lochte to be — and this is the scientific term here — a weasel. He peddled lies about what took place, twice speaking with NBC correspondents, on air, recounting varying tales of a dramatic robbery by Brazilian bandits, in which he was alternately a hero, the only one of the four not to cower, and a victim of the corrupt seediness of Brazil — a country he conveniently left just after the Sunday incident. Lochte held firm to his story, even as Bentz and Conger fessed up, admitting that no robbery took place after being pulled off their flights out of Rio on Wednesday by police and having their passports seized.

On Friday morning, Lochte finally issued a public apology. After the week’s events, there were probably not many people who expected a heartfelt confession or an accounting of what led him to behave the way he did. But the three-paragraph statement the 32-year-old swimmer published to Twitter defies even the low expectations he had set. It’s less an apology than a mealy-mouthed declaration of the extent to which Lochte still believes he is a victim — this time at the hands of a furious public in both the United States and Brazil. He might as well have just written “whatever,” the phrase he initially used to describe his response to the fake-police gunman who drove him and his teammates off the road, an event we now know was a work of utter fiction.

Lochte’s statement reveals much about what he thinks of the last week’s events, and it bears examining. Let’s take a closer look.

The swimmer claims that his various untruths were the result of his not being “careful” enough, that, you know, something catches your eye, you get distracted for a second, and — whoops! — there you go describing being driven off a road by highway bandits who did not exist. It could happen to anyone! Note also that the closest Lochte comes to describing his stories — plural, because there were multiple distinct iterations, all of them false — as lies is to suggest that he wasn’t “candid.” He didn’t lie; he didn’t intentionally obscure facts to make himself look better. In his view, he simply made a rhetorical error.

It’s important to note what Lochte is actually sorry for. He is not sorry for vandalizing a gas station, or badly frightening its employees. He’s sorry that we’re mad at him. That’s it.

Here are some thoughts that Lochte has shared in the days that his three younger teammates have remained in Brazil, unable to leave the country due to threats of legal action hanging over their heads. He tweeted about dyeing his bleached hair. He posted a goofy video on Instagram, chattering at the camera as the lens distorted his face, to wish a happy birthday to fellow swimmer Elizabeth Beisel. He tweeted that his hair was back to normal, but then deleted it, because that struck him as being in poor taste, all things considered.

The most generous possible interpretation of what happened is that a heavily intoxicated Lochte genuinely believed he and his teammates were being robbed at gunpoint, and not that they were being asked to hand over cash to repair the damages they had just committed. Fine; let’s say you believe that. Lochte now knows, just like the rest of us, what really happened: The security video from the gas station that captured the entire incident was widely circulated on Thursday. Say you were so blind drunk that you did some shitty things — we all do shitty things, though I personally have never kicked down a bathroom door at a gas station — and misunderstood what happened afterward, and then misrepresented it in the press. Wouldn’t you, upon realizing your mistake, say that? Wouldn’t you apologize to the wronged parties for accusing them of things that didn’t occur? Wouldn’t you just come out and say you were wrong?

Lochte’s list of parties to which this apology is intended is notable for who it includes, and who it does not. Not included: The owner and staffers of the gas station, as well as the police force whose time they wasted and whose ability to protect Rio citizens and visitors alike — while far from perfect — was mocked. Again, Lochte is not sorry about what happened at the gas station. He’s sorry about how much trouble he’s gotten in since.

In place of the people he actually wronged, Lochte saw fit to include — drum roll, please — his sponsors. The swimmer carries endorsements from Speedo, Polo Ralph Lauren, Airweave, and others. According to advertising measurement firm iSpot, he had appeared in TV ads 117 times during the Games as of Thursday night. Losing sponsorships as he nears the end of his career could cost him dearly.

Once again, he is distancing himself from his own actions. He doesn’t say that he shouldn’t have committed drunken vandalism or shouldn’t have lied. The valuable lesson Lochte should have learned seems to be that he should have hired a better PR person.

USA Swimming reportedly threatened to ban Lochte for life if he did not issue an apology. So now we have this, which asks, in short: Please stop talking about what I did. When he says there has been “too much said,” he’s not referring to the many things he has said.

So what valuable resources is he lamenting the expenditure of? The USA Swimming and USOC staffers who were forced to defend him? The time spent by Brazilian police investigating a crime that never occurred? The State Department staffers who scrambled to keep this from becoming a major diplomatic incident?

No. Lochte is only sorry that we’ve been busy scolding him for his stunning display of entitlement, and he hopes we’ll stop very soon.