Brazilian police respond to Ryan Lochte armed robbery at Rio Olympics

Swimmer Ryan Lochte and his fellow members of the U.S. team—and visitors of a Brazilian gas station—have given the news cycle a good spin.  The story of a few days ago was that they had been robbed at gunpoint over the weekend.  But then local law enforcement brought more to the story, saying that in fact the athletes were responsible for damages to the Shell station they went to in the early hours of Sunday morning and then lied to investigators about what happened.

As more details come out, the reality of the incident appears to be that Lochte and his fellow swimmers left a party around dawn Sunday morning and may have wanted to hide details about what they had been doing.  According to the Brazilian police, the swimmers, apparently drunk, broke a door in the gas station’s restroom and a soap dispenser and urinated “around the premises.”  The gun pointed at the swimmers now appears to have been in the possession of a security guard, and the money they handed over was to pay for damages.

The Americans probably don’t face serious punishment even if the new account of events proves to be the correct one.  A judge supervising the case, Marcello Rubioli, said that making false reports to the police incurs a payment made to a humanitarian non-governmental organization for someone found guilty.  For some reason, the words, grease and palms, are coming to mind here.

And so we now have competing narratives—violence in a South American country contrasted with the entitlement felt by American athletes.  The homicide rate in Brazil—around thirty per hundred thousand, and a large portion done by firearms—remains a fact.  But the behavior of Lochte and his fellows must also enter into our understanding.

Minor property destruction is one thing.  Criminal acts among athletes are too often much more serious, especially sexual violence.  This is particularly a problem among college players.  Professional teams are not filled with violent athletes, contrary to popular impressions, but the combination of a culture that praises success on the game field and tolerates or even enables cheating in academics and substance abuse, including, of course, alcohol, but more and more prescription drugs as well makes bad behavior feel inevitable.

Entitlement is a tricky thing.  Saying that people deserve to receive compensation for value that they create isn’t something that many among us will challenge.  And readers here will understand the idea that each person is entitled to basic human rights.  At the same time, the notion of an aristocracy—having some in our midst who are treated with special consideration and given unearned privileges that the rest of us are denied—is contrary to who we are.

This is bound up in the American obsession with celebrity generally—whether we’re talking about athletes, singers, actors, or whatnot.  We can acknowledge excellence in a particular skill—someone who can run a mile in an exceptional time or play a character in a way that makes the audience believe in the performance—without having to become worshipful, especially in all areas of the celebrity’s life.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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