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Posted by on Aug 25, 2016 in Society | 27 comments

Athletic suspensions illustrate the uneven hand of “justice” [update 2]

UPDATE 2. On August 12, U.S. soccer team goalie Hope Solo commented on the team’s loss at the Rio Olympics with a less-than-sportsman-like jibe. In a Sports Illustrated recorded interview she said, dispassionately: “… we played a bunch of cowards…” before detailing a series of actions she thought were evasive.

On August 25, Solo was suspended for six months and also fired when U.S. Soccer “terminated” her contract.

Let’s compare Solo’s suspension with comparables from the men’s U.S. swim team, shall we?

In 2014, Michael Phelps got his second DUI arrest in Maryland. He was traveling 84 miles per hour in a 45-zone and his blood alcohol level was almost twice the legal limit. USA Swimming suspended him for six months; he was 29.

In 2009, USA Swimming suspended Phelps for three months after a photo surfaced showing him inhaling from a marijuana pipe at the University of South Carolina. In 2009, SC had a mandatory minimum sentence for first-time offenders convicted of simple drug possession.

In 2004, at age 19, Phelps was arrested after running a stop sign in Wicomico County, Maryland, and charged with DUI. He pled guilty to driving while impaired and was given a suspended sentence; the legal drinking age in the United States is 21.

Four-time Olympian Ryan Lochte, 32, not only got publicly intoxicated and vandalized a gas station at the Rio Olympics. He fabricated a complex lie saying he and his teammates had been mugged by men impersonating Brazilian police. Lochte told NBC on August 14:

We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a police badge, no lights, no nothing — just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground. And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, “Get down,” and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.

The story unraveled as the week wore on, with video footage — and his teammates — directly contradicting Lochte.

Lochte now admits he “over-exaggerated” the story and that he was drunk at the time. But he only did one thing wrong: “My mistake was over-exaggerating what really happened.”

In other words, filing a false police report was not a mistake.

Vandalizing private property was not a mistake.

Claiming to be a victim of brown-skinned thugs was not a mistake.

Cutting-and-running, leaving his team mates to face the music while he was tweeting about trivia and dying his hair, was not a mistake.

On August 22, news organizations reported four commercial sponsors had dropped Lochte: Speedo, Ralph Lauren, Airweave and Gentle Hair Removal.

There have been no repercussions from the International Olympics Committee, the U.S. Olympics Committee, or the US swim team. In fact, Rio Olympics spokesman Mario Andrada brushed away the controversy:

I do not expect any apologies from him or other athletes are needed. They were trying to have fun… Let’s give these kids a break. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on.

But Lochte is 32 years old.

He is most definitely not “a kid.”

Why might U.S. Soccer want to terminate Solo’s contract?

In the spring, Hope and four other members of the U.S. women’s national filed a complaint on behalf of the entire team with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking wage equality with male players. Writing in the NY Times, Carli Lloyd explains:

The top five players on the men’s team make an average of $406,000 each year from these games. The top five women are guaranteed only $72,000 each year… The men get almost $69,000 for making a World Cup roster. As women, we get $15,000 for making the World Cup team.

U.S. Soccer projects that the women’s team will yield $5.2 million in profit next year, but the men’s team is forecast to lose almost $1 million. This wage disparity means fans of women’s soccer are subsidizing men’s team salaries.

In other words, Solo’s behavior — publicly demanding equal treatment — is pushy and abrasive.

* * *

Yes, high performing athletes in the U.S. live in a public fishbowl and embody a sense of entitlement. This essay makes no judgment about whether excess media attention is “right” or “wrong”.

And Solo is no poster child for sportsmanship.

She’s been known to rant on Twitter. Solo, 35, has been charged with domestic violence in Seattle. And in January 2015, U.S. Soccer suspended her for a month when her husband was arrested for DUI while driving a U.S. Soccer Federation van; she was a passenger.

But she hasn’t caused an international incident.

And she hasn’t been convicted of a crime or pled guilty to one.

She’s a mouthy broad, but Lochte is a “really good guy.”

Thank you, Alexandra Petri, for your Privilege Tree:

And the tree sheltered him under its thick leafy canopy of privilege and everyone who saw him shrugged and said, “Boys will be boys.” And there were no consequences, and the tree protected him, and no one even thought to telephone the police. (For, after all, he was just a boy.)

Because that’s what we are seeing play out here.

Privilege: white and male.

Imagine for a moment that Solo were male. Do you really think he would have been suspended for talking trash?

Imagine for a moment that Lochte were black. Do you really think the official organizations would be sitting on their hands right now?

The answer is not just no.

It’s hell no.

Update 1

It’s 7:30 am Pacific on Tuesday Aug 30, and there is still nothing. Actually, the media response is worse than nothing. GoogleNews screen capture:

ryan lochte

Google News screen capture, Tuesday 30 August, 7:30 am

Update 2

It’s 9:00 pm Pacific on Tuesday Aug 30, and we learn that Lochte has not one but two new endorsements. One is from last week, the other was announced today.

AND he has been named as “a contestant on the upcoming edition of ABC’s ‘Dancing with the Stars‘.”

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