“Boys will be boys” is a phrase that should be retired sometime around middle school. As adulthood encroaches, certain minimum standards of good behavior should be expected from young men. Or so Emily Post told me.
The truth is, far too many emotionally immature boys reach adulthood and become emotionally immature men. And when those men happen to represent a world superpower at a treasured sporting event, the potential for personal embarrassment becomes the potential for international embarrassment.
So it was with Ryan Lochte, a U.S. swimmer who represented the United States in Rio during these most recent Olympic Games. A series of unfortunate decisions landed Lochte in hot water recently. The saga reveals an uncomfortable number of truths about American society, including entrenched white male privilege and gender-based double standards.
What Did Lochte Do?
In case you missed any of this as it unfolded, here’s a brief timeline.
Lochte, along with three teammates from the U.S. swim team, claimed they were robbed at gunpoint while their taxi was pulled over. This would have been the night after their final event in the Rio swimming competition. But thanks to a parade of eyewitness accounts and the help of some security camera footage, we now know this was a pure fabrication — a lie that has cost Lochte himself the support of several major sponsors.
So why lie? It’s simple — because Lochte and his chums were making trouble that night and they needed to cover their tracks. The real story was about how a grown man and Olympian engaged in public urination and vandalism — and then made up a fabulously overwrought story to protect himself.
That’s right — Lochte seems like the sort of person who takes the time to climb up to some picturesque overlook and then leaves a case of empty Natural Ice cans behind. He’s the sort of person who will run into your car in a parking lot and leave without a backward glance. He is white male privilege.
Is that too much? Too judgmental? This writer doesn’t think so. To prove it, John Oliver did what he does best. He created the video montage of our dreams, highlighting each time this young man has embarrassed himself in public — and by extension, embarrassed his nation in the process.
The Gabby Douglas Saga
If Lochte’s full-bore boorishness has been met with a collective yawn from the nation — “Boys will be boys,” “No harm, no foul,” etc. — then a manufactured controversy surrounding Gabby Douglas has, by comparison, sent the country into a patriotism-fueled tailspin of epic proportions.
Douglas, like Lochte, is a gold medal-winning U.S. Olympian. And like many commentators and athletes, she recently became a lightning rod for some undoubtedly gender-based personal judgments. Not for vandalizing public property or urinating publically, mind you — but for not putting her hand over her heart when the U.S. national anthem was played during her medal ceremony. She apologized afterward, but the damage was done.
For this apparent slight against American Patriotism®, Douglas has received the heaps of scorn that rightfully belonged to actual scumbag Ryan Lochte. By way of explanation, Douglas offered that she was overwhelmed by the situation and meant no disrespect to the country she was there to represent.
That could have been the end of it, but there’s actually a bit of history when it comes to Douglas being targeted and unfairly chastised by media “personalities” for not quite living up to their expectations. There was the time she seemed to “pout” while standing on the medal podium and, back in 2012, there was social media outrage over the way Douglas wore her hair during the Games. We won’t get into the racial issues with the latter…
Why the Double Standard?
Any objective onlooker would be right to be dismayed at the ways these two medal winners have been treated — the former with disinterest or attempts to laugh it off, and the latter with outright contempt. Is there some factor at play here that might account for this? I don’t think it’s too on-the-nose to suggest gender and race both have something to do with it. Occam’s razor dictates that the simplest explanation is the more likely.
It seems even in the world of celebrity athletes, there are still insurmountable walls that separate the genders and races. The Olympic Games themselves are less a test of a nation’s quality and more an appraisal of that country’s wealth. Why else could the United States clean up during the medal tallies each year, but continue to field athletes of such poor moral fiber?
The media’s treatment of Lochte and Douglas lays bare some of the most glaring problems America has had to live with for several generations now. We seem to hold our women to higher standards, even as we make them scrape and fight for every piece of respect and dignity they’re due.
Lochte, for his part, managed to skate through this debacle relatively unscathed. He’s publicly apologized and will potentially face further punishments, but it’s clear the world is ready to forgive him. For most white men who live their lives in public, this is sufficient. A well-timed apology is usually all it takes to course-correct from whatever stupid thing you’ve done lately.
But many more women never recover from that kind of embarrassment — or are forced to apologize for things that don’t warrant an apology in the first place. One would think the Olympics are a place to discover the better angels of our nature, but one would apparently be wrong.
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