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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Lochte's Lesson for All of Us

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston(Photo: lawellphoto.com)

Our 10 US Olympic men’s swim team earned 23 medals between them – what an achievement. They are an inspiration for swimmers, young and old, everywhere. Their time in Rio ended on a high note with each looking forward to a bright future in and out of the pool. 

But for four swimmers, Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen, there is one more chapter to their Olympic story and, no matter how you look at it, it is not positive. We all saw the headlines – Lochte Among Those Robbed at Gunpoint in Rio. The story continued to unfold – Lochte and his teammates were allegedly forced to the ground, a gun at their foreheads, ready to discharge. They survived the incident and, with cameras and lights shining, they shared the horrific ordeal, the injustice of it all and their brave response.

The account was troubling on so many levels. Law enforcement began their investigation, surveillance video surfaced and the swimmers’ story started to change. Footage revealed that our champions may have been destructive and engaged in vandalism. The “robbers” were later identified as two security guards. The demand for money was shown to be a request by those guards that the men pay for the damages committed. 

Lochte later apologized for “mispresenting” the facts and accepted responsibility for what happened. I find the whole thing eye opening . . .  even a 12-time Olympic medalist can walk into a legal disaster. While the case in Rio is still under investigation, it got me thinking about the gravity of misrepresenting criminal activity. It happens. Why do people do this? For many reasons, including: to get attention, play a joke, retaliate against someone, make money or, as may have possibly been the case in with the swimmers, to cover their own wrong doing. 

Regardless of the reason, the consequences are always significant. A civil suit can be brought against you, criminal charges can be brought against you and fines can be imposed against you. 

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. In the case of Lochte and his teammates, three of the four were initially not allowed to leave Rio, their passports held as they were further questioned by law enforcement. So far, two of the swimmers were ordered to pay a fine of $11,000 to a local charity. The swimmers may face discipline from the Olympic committee and their own teams. Additionally, they risk losing lucrative endorsement deals. In the end, and no matter what story you believe, this has tarnished an experience of a lifetime.

These situations are always a lose-lose. Think of the consequence on the others involved: the increased pressure on law enforcement investigating the case and policing the area; the Olympic committee’s rush to formulate a response and assurances; the feeling of disappointment in those men and women who worked hard to build up their city and invest in their homeland; the other athletes who spent even one moment questioning their own safety; and then I think of the alleged criminals who are tasked with exonerating their name and restoring their reputations. For each of these people, precious time, money and resources have been used.

Seeing star athletes perform puts them in a category out of this world . . .  but seeing four Olympic swimmers “mishandle” a story under pressure brings them right back down to earth. This same decision could have been made by me or you or our sons and daughters under pressure. Let’s talk about it. The risks are many and the consequences severe. In true Olympic style, this is an epic reminder not to misrepresent situations to law enforcement. It’s never worth it.

For more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston, go to crime-stoppers.org and follow Crime Stoppers on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Email her directly at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Read past Sundays with Rania posts here.

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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