The issue is not the bad behavior, lies, or even white privilege that was nakedly on display in the case of the prevaricating white Olympic swimmers. The issue is, as always, the boundless storehouse of apologizing for bad behaving, and more times than not, law breaking young and no so young whites, and especially athletes and celebrities. It started with the networks, and much of the media, virtually giving nearly as much coverage to the made-up robbery as the coverage of the Olympic games, then doubling down by practically tarring Brazil as a rogue state chock full of corrupt and lawless cops and officials. Then the capper was giving the ringleader, Ryan Lochte, a platform before millions on the Today Show to say this to Matt Lauer: "I wouldn't make up a story like this nor would the others -- as a matter of fact we all feel it makes us look bad. We're victims in this and we're happy that we're safe." His "victims" claim was unchallenged.
An International Olympic Committee spokesperson then chimed in: "I do not regret having apologized. No apologies from him or other athletes are needed. We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun. Let's give these kids a break. Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on." This boys will be boys depiction also was unchallenged. It simply added to the other characterizations of them and their hijinks as immature, fun and games, or at worst simply irresponsible, with only the vaguest suggestion that their conduct tainted the U.S.'s swim efforts.
The swimmers are hardly the first white athletes to benefit from the blatant racial double-standard. It goes like this. When black athletes are accused of or are guilty of wrongdoing, their punishment is swift and harsh. The public is merciless. They are pounded pitilessly by the media and they become the eternal poster boys for deviancy and criminality. When whites admit to or are accused of wrongdoing there is much handwringing, apologetics, and kid glove rationalizations to explain their behavior, and their names quickly disappear from the headlines.
I can always count on the media to beat to death, revive, and beat to death again the in and out of sports world misdeeds of black athletes. And just as predictably, I can count on it to brush aside, apologize for, or make objects of sympathy the misdeeds of white pro athletes.
Countless studies have been cited that names names, dates and places that compare and contrast how whites that commit crime, even mass murder, are routinely apologized for, sanitized, psychoanalyzed, or simply ignored. This in brutal comparison to how blacks, even black victims of white crimes, are depicted. The Huffington Post did a telling compare and contrast of the ritual apologetics for misbehavior or lawbreaking by whites and blacks citing several well-publicized recent cases. In an Alabama multiple murder case in 2010, the white suspect, a college professor, was described as "brilliant, but a social misfit." In the shooting death of a Black in Montgomery, Alabama, the description was "the homicide victim had a history of narcotics abuse, tangles with the law."
A New York man, who was a star athlete, killed his parents in 2010, was depicted as mentally challenged "brilliant, athletic--but his demons were the deaths of his parents." Trayvon Martin, murdered by George Zimmerman, was repeatedly raked over the coals for alleged drug use, and his school suspensions. This in contrast to the 15-year-old Oregon school shooter who shot up his school in 2014, a headline read, "school shooting suspect fascinated with guns, but was a devoted Mormon, his friends say." When mass murderer, Elliot Rodgers, went on his shooting rampage at U.C. Santa Barbara in 2014, there was much media soul searching trying to get inside his head. This was neatly summed up in a headline that read, "Suspect was soft-spoken, polite, a gentleman, says ex-principal."
There were no such personality probes, human interest peaks, or psychoanalyst coach analysis for John Crawford III who was gunned down at a Walmart in Richland, Ohio, after a report that he was carrying a toy gun in the store. The state attorney general defended the shooting by claiming that the gun was not really a toy. Yet when an Ohio teen killed three students in 2012 he was described in a headline story as "a fine person."
The template has been set in stone in just about every mass shooting by whites going back to Columbine in 1999. There is a desperate search to psychoanalyze the shooters, give a warm and fuzzy depiction about their backgrounds and up-bringing through interviews with their parents, teachers and friends, and then make it abundantly clear that they are aberrations. Blacks whether accused of crime or victims get no such pass.
So there's really no need to ask the perennial what if question, that is if it had been black members of the U.S. Olympic basketball team that lied shamelessly about the alleged robbery what the headlines and the furor would have looked and sounded like. The sordid history of who gets painted as victims when they misbehave and how gets savaged as villains when they do the same tells us the answer.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a consultant with the Institute of the Black World and an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio-one. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Pacifica Radio.