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The 2016 Olympics, the XXXI Summer Olympiad has now reached its conclusion in Rio de Janiero. What a games it has been. Despite the initial fear of disease, we saw a really competitive, really terrific Olympics, and the United States did an amazing eighteen medals better than they did in London just four years ago.

But within these games, there were a couple of notable incidents that occurred, via social media and standard journalism, that had nothing to do with the competition.

The first involved Olympic artistic gymnast and All-Around team Gold Medal winner Gabby Douglas.

Back in 2012, Gabby was a major part of the success in London, and became something of a star. She won the all around individual gold, the first African American woman to do so, and endorsement deals followed. Flash ahead four years later. Only teammate Aly Raisman joined her from the London squad in Rio, and all of the attention shifted, not to the veteran athletes, but to newcomer Simone Biles, who everyone (correctly) predicted would be the one to watch.

When the Final Five, as they chose to call themselves, took the Gold and climbed to the top of the podium, received their medals and turned to watch the American Flag ascend to the tune of "The Star Spangled Banner," four of the gymnasts covered their hearts with their hands. The exception was Gabby, who appeared pensive or saddened somehow, or out of sorts, or... something. She wasn't completely there. Was she reflecting on the work she had done? Did something happen not related to gymnastics that disturbed her? Some even suggested this was a quiet protest on the anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown.

The point was, it made an odd tableau, with Gabby being the only one not covering her heart.

l to r: Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas and Simone Biles

You would think that wasn't such a big deal, but a firestorm exploded on social media, with people stating that Gabby was wrong to not have covered her heart. The Los Angeles Times' writer Bill Platschke had this to say about Ms. Douglas in his column:

"She might be no different than a disconnected baseball player who hangs in the corner of a clubhouse during a champagne celebration, or a discontented basketball player who doesn’t rush the court to celebrate a winning shot.

Except those players aren’t representing an entire country as its flag is being raised to the world. The next time Gabby Douglas stands on a podium for the national anthem, she can forget the words, disagree with them, protest them. But here’s hoping she never again ignores the weight of their meaning."

The facts are that you are supposed to cover your heart during The Pledge of Allegiance. There is no such requirement for the Star Spangled Banner. To put it another way, Gabby Douglas did absolutely nothing wrong. Still, she felt the need to actually issue an apology which read as follows:

"First I want to say thank you everyone for all your support! It's a huge honor for me to be able to represent #TeamUSA. In response to a few tweets I saw tonight, I always stand at attention out of respect for our country whenever the national anthem is played. I never meant any disrespect and apologize if I offended anyone. I'm so overwhelmed at what our team accomplished today and overjoyed that we were able to bring home another gold for our country!"

The self-righteous commentators seemed to be placated.

But the second element is what really was the shocker.

If it wasn't for Michael Phelps, the male name you most likely would have heard most around the swimming pool is Ryan Lochte. Lochte and three other members of the US Swim team went out for a celebration after they completed their events and then told a harrowing story of a late night hold up on the streets of Rio, one of the other worries that many had about travel to that city. A gun was pointed at Lochte's head and money was given. The swimmers were clearly in over their heads and were lucky to have escaped with their lives.

Lochte quickly flew out of Rio after doing several interviews. But then the story began to change. The gun wasn't pointed at Lochte's head, it was pointed at his general direction. The person pointing the gun wasn't a robber, but the gas station security guard. A local acted as a translator for the Americans and the Brazilians. It turned out the swimmers defaced a public rest room. Then, as they tried to leave, they were stopped. The demand for money was for the damages that were done by the US swimmers.

Lochte had to do another series of interviews where he explained the story in a different way, and where he claimed he would take responsibility for what happened. One of the swimmers paid $11,000 in restitution.

And yet, there really has been no outrage, no anger, if anything, people just seem to want this to go away. Even the Rio officials said this wasn't a big deal.

Just to put this in context: these were United States Olympians, who vandalized a gas station bathroom, got caught red handed doing it, had every intention of leaving the scene of the crime, then begrudgingly paid some money for their damages, likely only because the guard had a gun to make sure they didn't run.

If that was all they did, that would have been bad enough, but then they went on global television and claimed they were the victims of armed robbery.

It wasn't for another couple of days that the truth came out, thanks to a videotape from the gas station security camera showing what happened.

Ryan Lochte in his sit down interview with Matt Lauer during the Olympics

The sense of entitlement, the disregard for the local people, the bald-face lying in front of the world about a situation that would not have happened had they behaved like decent human beings? There's something to write a column about.

Somehow, the outrage over Gabby Douglas is put in perspective by the lack of remark over Lochte and his cronies.

I have to think what if the roles were reversed? What if a white gymnast didn't hold her hand over her heart during the anthem. Would anyone have even noticed? What if a black US Olympian was caught tagging a bathroom wall, tried to escape, then claimed he was robbed to international media, only to be proven false? I would think THAT Olympian would never see another Olympics, and would forever be branded as a poor excuse for a representative of this country.

Perhaps my month of going through Jona Olsson's essay about avoiding the discussion of racism has made me a bit more sensitive to this, but it sure feels like a case where people overreacted to a Black Olympian who really didn't do anything wrong, and a case where a group of White Olympians broke the law, then lied about it, and everyone is willing to forgive and forget.

I don't quite trust myself to know for sure, so, I'm asking you... is this a case of racism or no?


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 23rd, 2016 07:40 pm (UTC)
I don't know if it is?

Whoever thinks that it is a tenet of Americanism to put your hand over your heart during the national anthem is wrong. Not everyone learns that at school, not everyone feels comfortable doing it as an adult. The difference is, most of us don't come under microscopic scrutiny the way athletes on the podium do. Calling it out was wrong. The piling on was wrong! Linking it to Michael Brown... that seems racist to me. If you don't know for certain, you have no business making such a loaded suggestion.

I do think this was kind of a miserable Olympics for Gabby Douglas, who did better in the national qualifying competition than the actual Olympics, and was just "left out" of most of the experience and coverage as a result. Except for making things worse for her with the above incident. :(

Ryan Lochte is a handsome idiot, and I wonder if he's getting a bit of a pass because everyone knows that? The guys had no business defacing that restroom to begin with (WTF was that about?), and should have paid up instead of trying to walk away from the consequences. I don't know if they felt trapped-- if they had no money to offer at the time, and didn't know how to deal with that in a way that wouldn't have them getting driven to the police station-- but lying about it was wrong for them and the host country, and wrong as Olympic team members. I do agree that if they were black, they probably would have been sanctioned and boxed up and shunned for it.

The one thing I'm clear on is that the NBC interview should never have happened, for any number of reasons. And that writer owes Gabby Douglas an apology for dragging her through that. LA Times, for crying out loud! It's not even a midwest or deep south paper!
Aug. 24th, 2016 05:41 am (UTC)
Fair point about Gabby's lackluster Rio experience. Certainly Simone got every bit of attention and Gabby was sort of just another team member there after being the star in 2012. It couldn't have been nearly as much fun or as energetic as London for her.

On the "Lyin' Ryan" tip: Apparently, what had happened was Lochte called home when he got back to the Olympic Village after the night in question and told his mom some embellished story about this. I don't know if that emboldened him to go on television with Billy Bush the next day and tell the same story or if his mother encouraged him to say something to the media, but there he was talking on "Access Hollywood."

It appears Lochte is going to take the full brunt of the punishment, having now lost all his sponsors. But there are a fair number of defenders of him, even after that. One person who claimed to be a "family friend" of one of the other 3 swimmers stated that Lochte kicked in the bathroom door "for sanitary reasons." Apparently the door was covered in Zika Virus or something similar.

The fact is, having been on Euro trains and seeing American backpackers, I know there's a sense of entitlement and privilege and an expectation that everything should be done for their benefit. I suspect a similar view was held by these Olympians.

NBC saw a story and ran with it. Lochte played the part perfectly, going from angered victim to apologetic liar just a couple of days later.

All in all, it was about ninety minutes of news coverage, which could have and should have been used to cover more of the sporting events, not this ridiculous event.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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