I am by nature a quiet, reserved person. My life revolves around my family and my business, and the last thing in the world I'm interested in is seeing my picture in the paper. So what was I doing in a television studio last week, protesting disgraced Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte's national TV debut on ABC's Dancing With the Stars?
It's actually quite simple.
Lochte's attempt to lie his way out of a drunken episode of vandalism at the Rio Olympics last month by inventing a totally fictitious story about being robbed by gun-toting Brazilian policemen did more than anger local authorities and dishonor the U.S. Olympic team. It also left many Brazilians wondering if their traditional respect and affection for American visitors might be misplaced. I know because I was in Rio with my family for the Olympics and as someone who has been visiting and doing business in Brazil for years, I could feel the atmosphere change virtually overnight as a result of Lochte's fabrications.
Suddenly, simple misunderstandings that previously might have been cleared up with a single phone call came to be viewed in a more sinister light. That's exactly what happened to one of my nephews. The day after Lochte fled the country, a friend of my nephew's sold (at half-price) some extra tickets he had to a beach volleyball competition. Unfortunately, when the people who bought the tickets presented them at the gate, they were rejected by the electronic scanner. This sort of thing happened repeatedly at the Olympics, often for totally innocent reasons. Standard procedure in these circumstances was to check with the central ticket office, which would have authenticated the tickets as legitimate. But in the chilly atmosphere that Lochte's lies had created, the people who bought the tickets were in no mood to give an American the benefit of the doubt. Instead, they had my nephew arrested. Because Lochte had fled Brazil rather than face the music for his lies, my nephew was wrongly labelled a "flight risk" and detained in one of Brazil's most notorious prisons for more than a week before everything was sorted out.
Fortunately, Brazilian justice is a lot better than Lochte would have us believe, and my nephew was cleared of the charges and released by a judge. He's now safely home with his family in the United States. Nonetheless, it was a frightening experience - one that would never have happened if Lochte hadn't poisoned the well.
It was against this backdrop that I heard that Lochte was going to be one of the celebrity competitors on ABC's Dancing With the Stars. This guy had just been on global television trying to evade the consequences of his actions by telling lies about Brazil - and the idea that he could now literally dance his way out of trouble was unacceptable to me. I know the American public loves redemption stories, and when a so-called hero turns out to have feet of clay, the only thing we enjoy more than watching him fall is watching him climb back onto his pedestal. But usually we expect the redeemed hero to do something more meaningful than a fox trot in a tux. And that's why I, a normally reserved Orange County businessman, found myself leading a protest on Dancing With the Stars.
I should note that before showing up at the studio to protest, I contacted both the ABC network and the show's producers, asking them not to reward Lochte for his craven dishonesty. No one even acknowledged my communications. I should also note that our protest was completely peaceful and non-violent. We did not attack Lochte. We did not rush Lochte. We did not touch Lochte. We did not even say anything to Lochte. All we did was try to put ourselves in front of the cameras so they could see our t-shirts, which displayed Lochte's name overlaid with the universal "no" symbol.
Olympians, we're told, are supposed to be role models. In this era of performance-enhancing drugs and big-money endorsements, this may be an outmoded idea. What I hope is not outmoded is the idea that a responsible person accepts the consequences of his or her actions, does not try to shift blame onto innocent people or slander an entire country, and is not rewarded rather than punished for their bad behavior. By featuring Ryan Lochte as a "star" worth celebrating, ABC and Dancing With the Stars have failed us just as badly as he did.
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