August 23, 2016
Ugly Americans steal more feel-good
headlines from worthy Olympians
By KEITH GAVE
After two weeks and hundreds of memorable stories from the Rio Olympic Games – notable among them the beautiful and dominant performances of gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky; the transcendence of American Michael Phelps and Jamaican Usain Bolt at the end of their historic competitive careers; and the heartwarming saga of distance runners Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand and Abbey d’Agostino of the United States stopping to help one another finish after tumbling to the turf at the start of their 5,000-meter heat – what are we talking about?
Some American D-bag named Ryan Lochte, the erstwhile hey-look-at-me-blond swimmer who after a drunken night out allegedly trashed a gas-station, later lied to authorities about being robbed with a gun held to his head and then left the country, leaving his teammates, the three guys he was out carousing with until sunup to clean up his sorry mess.
And we Americans often wonder why people around the world hate us so much.
My first instinct when I sat down to write this piece was to call for a boycott of every sponsor supporting this very ugly American. But Speedo beat me to it. The swimwear company dropped Lochte as an endorser even after Lochte, in a tearful TV interview (apparently, he can cry on cue, too) admitted not to lying but to “over-exaggerating” about what he first described as an armed robbery.
A short time later, a Ralph Lauren official told ESPN that the apparel company would not be renewing Lochte’s deal, leaving him with only two remaining sponsorship endorsements. The clothing company removed Lochte’s name and image from its Olympic endorser page after the events in Rio.
Speedo went further, announcing it will be donating $50,000 of Lochte’s fee to Save the Children, which will direct the money toward youngsters in Brazil.
“While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for,” the swimwear company announced in a statement provided to The Washington Post. “We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience.”
Not likely, based on fairly recent history. At the Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, in 1998, some members of the U.S. men’s hockey team – after a horrendous performance – trashed their dorm rooms in the Olympic Athletes’ Village. At about 4 a.m. on Feb. 19th, they broke 10 chairs,
tossing six of them out the window, along with three fire extinguishers. They also damaged walls and floors while disturbing nearby American speed skaters as they tried to sleep before their competitions.
In that case, the culprits were never identified. The American coach, Ron Wilson, shrugged his shoulders, describing himself as a kind of no-fault “foster parent” to a bunch of players who belonged to other NHL teams. No one offered so much as a generic apology.
A heavy favorite to medal in that first-ever appearance of NHL players in the Olympics, the Americans won just one game in the preliminary round, beating Belarus, 5-2, while losing to Sweden, 4-2, and Canada, 4-1. In the elimination round, they lost, 4-1, to Czechoslovakia.
Instead, the American made headlines with a drunken, destructive rampage that overshadowed one of the most compelling moments I’ve ever witnessed in sports – when Team USA’s women’s ice hockey team upset Canada to win the first gold medal ever awarded in the new Winter Games sport.
A month later, conceding to a maelstrom of criticism over the vandalism, team captain Chris Chelios, then of the Chicago Blackhawks, sent an apology along with a check for $3,000 to the Nagano Olympic Organizing Committee on behalf of his gutless teammates.
“Certain conduct by a few members of our team . . . was inexcusable,” Chelios wrote to the Japanese Olympic committee in a letter he signed on the team's behalf. "I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the people of Japan, the Japanese Olympic committee, the USOC, and to all hockey fans throughout the world.
“Bitter frustration at our own level of play caused a few team members to vent their anger in a way which is not in the tradition of NHL/Olympic sportsmanship.”
In Lochte’s case, there was no bitter frustration to deal with. Indeed, he enjoyed a highly successful Olympics – in the pool. He won his 12th medal, another gold, in the men’s four-by-200-meter race. It was his sixth gold medal in Olympic competition to go with three silver and three bronze.
A simple mea culpa with authorities – just telling the truth about what happened and apologizing instead of making up a story that horribly embarrassed the host country and in the process brought shame on all Americans – would probably have ended it before it became anything.
The decisions by some of Lochte’s sponsors will dramatically reduce the estimated $2.3 million annually Lochte has received. (And the disillusioned among you still clung to the notion that these were poor, struggling athletes.)
Speedo, particularly, made the right call by sending one of Lochte’s hefty paychecks to the children of Brazil. It makes me feel so good that I just might have to go out and buy me one of those tight little. . . uh, never mind.
Upton on the upswing?
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it was good to see Justin Upton finally swinging the bat like most of us expected he would. His two three-run home runs to help the Tigers to a 10-5 win in another good Justin Verlander outing felt long, lo-o-o-o-ng overdue.
But we’re not celebrating. That win ended a 2-5 home stand that followed a 2-5 road trip. Consequently, Detroit lost a lot of ground to Cleveland in the Central Division pennant race. Worse, the Tigers are back to looking over their shoulder. After a 9-1 run that included a sweep at Comerica Park, the Kansas City Royals are just a game back of Detroit.
The defending World Series champs, left for dead at the All-Star break, are suddenly very much in contention for the American League’s second wildcard berth. Boston and Baltimore are the leaders, respectively, in the wildcard race, followed by Seattle, one game back, Detroit, 2½ games behind and both Houston and KC, each 3½ games back. Gees, the Yankees, who had a fire sale at the deadline, are just four back.
Trade winds blowing?
If the last couple of weeks have proven anything, it’s that the Tigers are desperate for a consistent arm or two in the bullpen.
GM Al Avila made a good move in acquiring shortstop Erik Aybar when Jose Iglesias pulled up lame with a hamstring injury. But if he can’t find reliable help for a bullpen that has failed what has turned out to be a consistently steady starting rotation – despite all the injuries – then Tigers fans can forget about making plans to visit the ballpark in the post season.
The clock is ticking.