Ryan Lochte Apologizes for Behavior in Rio

U.S. Olympics swimmer Ryan Lochte posted a statement on Instagram today, after it came to light that the armed robbery he reported in Rio last weekend wasn’t quite that.

Lochte told an NBC reporter last Sunday that he’d been robbed at gunpoint, but he omitted that he and three friends had damaged a men’s bathroom at a gas station just before that, and that the “robber” — who Lochte told the reporter was dressed as a police officer — was in fact the gas station’s security guard, confronting the Americans after discovering the mess.

This apology is a good attempt but, on closer inspection, it falls short.

His statement starts well: “I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend – for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning.” But we can inspect public apologies more carefully: he’s apologizing for the way he described the event, not for the vandalism itself. In fact, he never does apologize for the damage he did to the restroom, which reportedly included ripping down a sign, damaging the door and soap dispenser, and other things. And instead of saying he wasn’t “candid,” why not just say he wasn’t “honest”?

Then he explains how traumatic it is to be out late with your friends in a foreign country “with a language barrier” and be confronted at gunpoint and asked to leave. No doubt this was traumatic – but a statement like this doesn’t belong in an apology, because what the apologizer intends as an explanation sounds to the listener/reader like an excuse. One gets the sense that Lochte still feels that an injustice was done him, perhaps that the security guard over-reacted. Apparently the Americans paid $50 to the gas station owner at the time, and perhaps Lochte feels that he was in effect robbed. It’s tough to write a sincere apology when you feel that you were the real victim.

He goes on to say that he “should’ve been much more responsible in how I handled myself, and for that, I’m sorry.” Exactly what that should’ve looked like, he doesn’t say. As if he’s following a formula, he says he accepts responsibility “for my role in this happening,” without really accepting any responsibility for single-handedly creating an international incident. We wish he’d said, “I misrepresented this incident as if I were an innocent victim, and ended up slandering the reputation of Rio de Janeiro, Olympic athletes, and the U.S.” He adds that he’s “learned some valuable lessons,” without hinting at what those might be.

He’s hoping this will all go away, but one way to make that happen is to issue a sincere apology. Maybe he’ll try again.