Postcard of a Hanging

Ryan Lochte’s public shaming – a Darwinian fall from grace…

I don’t think he reads many books. But if there’s one book that belongs on Ryan Lochte’s nightstand right now, it’s this: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, by Jon Ronson. It came out this spring to glowing reviews and the title pretty much says it all. Lochte’s current predicament could be a case study for a future expanded paperback edition.

Public shaming has always been a preferred form of societal revenge. Ronson points out that it was not only popular, but a state-sanctioned form of punishment in Colonial America. Nowadays it doesn’t need to be legalized; the ubiquitous cameras recording our every move and the light speed terror of social media make it inevitable. It quenches an ugly desire in all of us to devour that pound of flesh when public figures are caught behaving badly. The better looking, richer, and more successful, the better.

It happens in an instant. The outraged blood thirsty masses pounce and gorge in a frenzy. 48 hours later they’re wiping the meat from their teeth, while some scolding network anchor chides the shamed into a tearful mea culpa.

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What Didn’t Ryan Lochte Do?

The instantly infamous ‘Lochte Mugging’ in Rio has become an international incident spinning out of control… While his three American compatriots are left scrabbling to get their stories straight in front of an unamused host nation, the ringleader and superstar is somewhere stateside with a lot of explaining to do…

Congrats, boys. You’re part of one of the most successful and inspiring U.S. swim teams in history. A team packed with rookies, that entered Rio under a forecast of fading American swimming prospects. Instead, Team USA stepped up beyond all expectations. They collected an astonishing 33 medals in the pool in Rio, and this without two of their four superstars (Missy Franklin and Lochte himself) showing up much at all. U.S. swimmers always seem to dominate, but this was a special, transcendent team. Congrats, boys, you were part of that. You should be proud.

Except now, based on a few hazy drunken hours over the weekend, your team’s performance is no longer the headline. Your behavior – and your sketchy truthiness – is the thing that’s making international headlines. What the hell happened that night? Were all four of you blackout drunk? At this point, I hope so. Because that’s looking better than the alternative – that you collectively lied about something that has embarrassed and offended both your country and your Olympic host.

Ryan Lochte, Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz, and Jack Conger – now’s the time to start talking. Your stories weren’t straight the first time you told it, and now the security footage is coming in, and that’s looking pretty damning.

Look, I don’t doubt that you were robbed. I don’t doubt that a gun was pulled. I don’t think you made this whole thing up from whole cloth. Why would you? There’s nothing to gain, and everything to lose. But it does seem as though you weren’t entirely honest about how it all went down.

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Canada’s Penny Wins Gold! (Not that NBC Noticed…)

USA’s Simone Manuel and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak tied for Olympic gold in the women’s 100 Free… A case study in the bias of knee-jerk nationalism and getting so caught up in one moment, you miss the other…

Look, I get it. This was a lot more than another American winning gold. This was the first African-American woman ever to win an individual Olympic swimming medal. This was big and it was bad ass and Simone Manuel deserves every bit of love and praise coming her way.

But here’s a quick memo for the good folks at NBC calling and producing these races: She TIED.

The other gold medalist, the equal gold medalist, was a 16-year-old Canadian by the name of Penny Oleksiak. A swimmer who is now the greatest ever in Canadian Olympic history. At 16-years-old, that swim stamps Penny as Canada’s all-time best in an Olympic swimming pool.

This isn’t just a foot-stomping former Canadian Olympian ranting about one his own not getting her due. This was poor pro-USA television. This was about getting so swept up in one achievement that the other, equal champion got this: An afterthought tag about “what an Olympics Penny Oleksiak is having” while the going-to-commercial music cued up.

At four Olympics, in 2000, 2004, 2006, and 2008, I was among the NBC team. At each of those Games, and I’m sure at every one before and since, every production staffer was required to attend a do’s and don’ts seminar right before the Olympics began. It was mostly a rah-rah self-congratulatory show for the pooh-bahs who ran things from the control rooms, but it was also a repetitive reminder to cool it with the Go-USA crap. Something that, no matter how many reminders, never ceases to seep deeply into the NBC broadcast of the Olympics.

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“The Truth Remains That No One Wants to Know”

On the loss of Olympic faith…

I was driving north up the New York thruway yesterday, glad to be a million miles from Rio, wishing I could be more excited by the many inspiring performances down there, when an old Kris Kristofferson song came on called “To Beat the Devil.” How apt, thought I, immersed as I’ve been with some particular devilish battles of late. Turned it up, let him lay it on me.

The truth remains that no one wants to know…

Truer words. The devil in the song was an old man sitting at the bar, looking to crush the dreams of the dead broke kid beside him holding his guitar. No need for further details. The beauty of the good tunes is their ability to set your mind spinning wherever it needs to go.

My mind went to the NBA, to the NHL, to the NFL, to FIFA, and to every other major sport that consumes so much of our time and passions. And of course thoughts went to doping, the devil that lurks inside each and every one of them.

As I understand it, neither the NBA nor the NHL bother to test players at all during the playoffs. You know, when you have groups of obsessively competitive multimillionaires competing in insanely draining series, where recovery is paramount. As far as I can tell, the NFL just doesn’t give a shit, and nor do its fans. And to be fair – to be a fan of American football (as I am), means suspending your moral compass for your own vicarious enjoyment. These guys are killing each other; they’re all likely going to die at an earlier age than you or I because of what they do for a living. In that context, one can see how the cleanliness of your favorite aging linebacker or quarterback seems a little less urgent.

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Mack Drives in the Knife

On the first night of swimming in Rio, Aussie Mack Horton out-touched China’s Sun Yang for gold in the 400 free… He did something that few athletes have the courage to do these days: He called his competitor a “drug cheat” and questioned why “athletes who have tested positive are still competing”… A good question. Why aren’t more athletes stepping up, stating the same, and showing the courage of their convictions?

It started with some warm-up pool taunting. Sun was trying to get into the 20-year-old Horton’s head. Word is he splashed him. (‘Bush league psych-out stuff’, in the words of the Big Lewbowski’s Jesus Quintana…) Horton wasn’t having it, and he wasn’t afraid to speak up either. He was soon telling the media that “He just kind of splashed me but I ignored him because I don’t have time or respect for drug cheats. He wasn’t too happy about that so he kept splashing me. I just got in and did my thing.”

His thing: To win Olympic gold in the 400, taking down Sun, the defending Olympic champion, by .13.

Then, at the post-race new conference, with Sun sitting next to him, he stuck by his previous comments, stating “I used the word drug cheat because he test positive. I just have a problem with athletes who have tested positive still competing.”

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An Olympian’s Ties to the Horrors of Gun Violence

Longhorn Townley Hass is a newly minted Olympian and the future of the U.S. men’s 200 freestyle… He is also intimately acquainted to the epidemic of gun violence in America. Nine years ago, his sister Emily was among those shot in the Virginia Tech massacre…

On the morning of April 16th, 2007, 10-year-old Townley Haas was sitting in elementary school in Richmond, Virginia. His oldest sister, Emily, was sitting in French class at Virginia Tech University a little over 200 miles away. Soon after 9am, a gunman, a senior English major by the name of Seung-Hui Cho barricaded the doors of Norris Hall and began executing classroom after classroom in one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

One of the rooms he entered was the one where Emily Haas was studying French. Seung-Hui Cho entered armed with two semi0-automatic weapons. His executions continued, killing 11 of Haas’s classmates around her, before turning his gun on himself and committing suicide in that, the last room he would reach. Emily Haas had been shot twice in the head. But she was one of the lucky ones. The bullets grazed her skull and left her lucid enough to perform an act of extreme heroism. She managed to place an emergency call in quiet and kept police dispatchers on the line. Her call was credited with helping first responders to find the killer’s exact location.

When he was found dead in that room police discovered 203 live rounds left in his weapons. As State Police Superintendent William Flaherty stated at the time, “We was well prepared to continue on.”

The call placed Townley’s sister Emily may have helped save untold lives. 32 people were wounded that day at Virginia Tech. 17 more were wounded, Emily Haas among them.

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