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Commentary: Lochte’s apology is about as real as story

United States swimmer Ryan Lochte fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro, according to police. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)
United States swimmer Ryan Lochte fabricated a story about being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro, according to police. (Martin Meissner / Associated Press)
By Tim Dahlberg Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – Ryan Lochte’s apology was about as real as his story.

How can you tell? There wasn’t a “dude,” “brah” or “jeah” anywhere in it.

No “bogus,” either, and that’s a word Lochte really knows something about.

Some All-American hero Lochte turned out to be. John Wayne in Brazil, minus the white horse to ride into the sunrise on.

One minute he’s an Olympic star who bravely stares down bandits, a gun to his forehead. The next he’s fleeing back to the states, leaving his younger teammates – two still college students – to clean up his ugly American mess.

This could be a new telenovela, the soap operas that millions of Brazilians are hooked on. About the only thing missing is a female fatale, though the guess is there were some involved in the making of this story.

Lochte tried to portray himself into some kind of hero, a macho athlete who stared down the barrel of a gun and said “whatever” to some imaginary bandits. While his teammates cowered in fear of their lives he stood tall, his faux platinum hair glistening in the early morning light.

Turns out it was an easy story line to sell, especially to NBC which is constantly in search of Olympic heroes and swallowed his wild tale whole. Later he doubled down, telling Matt Lauer “we couldn’t make this story up.”

Actually, that’s precisely what Lochte did. And Friday’s apology for doing that was about as lame as the short-lived reality show he once starred on.

Obviously written by someone with experience in crisis communication, it at least begins with the right words, which are “I want to apologize.” From there it goes off the deep end, much like his original tale.

“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country – with a language barrier – and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money,” the statement said.

Dude, don’t go there. There’s a huge difference between being robbed by men masquerading as police and being confronted by security guards after vandalizing a gas station bathroom.

Don’t want a gun pointed at you? Don’t kick in gas station doors.

On the list of things that matter, the Wild West dustup at the gas station ranks low on the scale. Thanks to Lochte, though, it morphed from a drunken mistake into an affront to an entire nation, something Lochte and his drunken buddies will probably never be able to understand.

Actually there’s little Lochte seems to understand. He’s the archetypical dumb jock, always ready for the next frat party and always eager to have someone read him his press clippings. It’s no surprise that he is the athlete that most embarrassed the U.S. at these games.

Close behind him is goalkeeper Hope Solo, who called the Swedish players who scored on her “cowards” after the favored American women’s soccer team was eliminated. Like Lochte’s embellishments, Solo’s comments should be no surprise. She badmouthed her coach and teammates after a loss in 2007 and made jokes about the Zika virus before the Olympics, making her a target for Brazilian fans.

The whole thing is a bit reminiscent of the U.S. hockey players who trashed their rooms in Japan during the 1998 Olympics, only to infer it might be the fault of the Japanese for building cheap furniture.

All they did, though, was damage some furniture. Here the national pride of Brazil – a country trying to pull off these Olympics in the face of long odds – was damaged.

Surely Lochte wasn’t thinking about those kinds of consequences when he dreamed up his robbery tale. Probably wasn’t thinking much at all after a long night out on the town and an imaginary encounter with Brazilian desperados.

This is a guy, you might remember, who tried unsuccessfully to register his catchphrase “jeah” as a trademark even if he couldn’t define what it meant.

The irony of it all is that Lochte may have done these Olympics a big favor. His story has dominated the news out of Rio in recent days, pushing aside the lingering images of green pools and empty seats.

The truth is that Rio can be a dangerous place. There have been a number of very real crimes during the Olympics.

Indeed, Lochte’s initial account of things seemed entirely plausible in a country where the police might not always be what they appear to be and anyone with a cellphone or a wallet is a potential target.

As bad as Rio might look at times, though, Lochte looks even worse. He’s become a joke, mocked for everything from being a child of privilege to simply being an idiot.

It’s hard to imagine any sponsor sticking with him, hard to imagine USA Swimming officials even allowing him to compete. Brought to Rio to represent his country, he embarrassed it on the biggest stage imaginable.

An apology every bit as phony as his hair color did nothing to change that.

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