I’ve run the gamut this week: upset for, mad at, and now, unbelievably, outraged on behalf of Ryan Lochte.
Matt Lauer of NBC’s Today Show should be ashamed of himself.
Unless you’ve been on Mars, you’ve by now heard the tale of the robbery that wasn’t, or perhaps sort of was, but in any case was overblown. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte reported that a taxi transporting him and three other fellow gold medalist swimmers was pulled to the side of the road by men impersonating the police. A gun was held to Lochte’s forehead, the men were relieved of money, but no one was injured.
Ryan went home, but when his teammates tried, two were forcibly taken off of their airplane, all detained by police, and made to atone for their sins.
It turned out that Ryan’s account wasn’t true — or rather, he had neglected several important facts. Reports of him vandalizing a bathroom and leaving a poor gas station owner with huge bills surfaced. These, too, were untrue.
Video now confirms that the swimmers asked the taxi to pull into a gas station because they were in need of a bathroom. When they didn’t find one, drunk and full to brimming, these immature young men relieved themselves in the bushes in the back alley. Lochte made the situation worse by pulling a poster with a thin metal frame off of the wall.
When I heard of the vandalization, I was on the gas station owner’s side. I thought Lochte was a horrible person as well as a liar. But when I found out that the crime was so little — not that he and his teammates should have done it in the first place, I grew indignant.
Enter Matt Lauer, appointing himself the dubious moral center of NBC– and we all know how pious and free of sin everyone there is. Matt decided to grill Lochte for 20 minutes. Repeatedly Lauer exhorted, “It wasn’t a robbery, was it?” and then several more times more emphatically, “It was a negotiation, wasn’t it? It was a negotiation!”
Well Matt Lauer, when someone takes a gun and points it at you because you pissed in their alley it most certainly is NOT a negotiation! Don’t get me wrong, the four young men were disgusting. I’d be upset if anyone did that on my property. But from what I hear, that method of finding relief is not uncommon in Brazil. Still, there is no excuse for their behavior. Making it worse by pulling down a poster, while a small sin, is still a form of vandalism and deserves no pity.
However, reacting to that by brandishing a gun is extreme and utter lunacy. Imagine anyone in the U.S. doing such a thing?
When you take a gun and aim it at someone, whether it be a few feet away, or touching their forehead, it is a terrifying experience. In Lochte’s drunken state, possibly even more so. When you force four men to empty their wallets to pay for such a small thing, that is extortion if not robbery. When the Brazilian police pull men off of a plane, that is idiotic.
UPDATE: Take a look at this well-balanced piece from USA Today reporters Taylor Barnes and David Meeks and the accompanying video footage by clicking HERE.
And thanks to these two reporters who are REPORTING, not grand standing, we learn there were two men pointing guns at the swimmers. I’m surprised that gas station didn’t have more to clean up than just urine!
Further, when Matt Lauer then asks Ryan Lochte if it was not indeed his fault for one of his teammates, James Feigen, being charged with false reporting and being forced to donate $11,000 to a local charity before the judge would drop charges, Ryan Lochte was speechless. Lauer went on to postulate that Feigen disavowed being involved because he didn’t want to tattle on Lochte.
Well, no, Matt Lauer, it was Feigen’s decision to lie, just as it had been Lochte’s. Still, not one of these young men has deserved the harassment, the persecution by you and Al Roker, being humiliated, pulled off of planes, and the like. And further, for you to imply that Lochte deserves to be banned from the next Olympics and to lose his endorsements, is absolutely ridiculous, and cruel.
Lochte is a wild card, immature, irreverent, flashy, outrageous, and the like. But he also gives the sport a boost, both by being the second most highly decorated swimmer in U.S. history, and also by adding a bit of dash to the lineup. Whether it’s his outrageous star spangled grill, or his bluish-white hair, or whatever silly thing he’s up to, he adds the same sparkle Johnny Weir does to ice skating.
If we can forgive Michael Phelps, which we do gladly, albeit for a much more serious offense, then Lotche deserves the same chance. And you, Matt Lauer, need to get off of your soap box.
Author’s update: I totally forgot to say that Billy Bush, who did the initial interview and then followed up, was indeed both a fair minded journalist and a gentleman when he tried to temper things on camera. He explained that a scary incident involving a gun had been involved, and though Lochte shouldn’t have over-embellished, it certainly was a traumatic encounter. Kudos to you Billy Bush, I hope to be seeing more of you on TV.
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