Culture

Ryan Lochte and America’s Man-Boy Problem

Ryan Lochte at a swimming event in 2015 (Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters)
His antics don’t speak well of American culture in the age of Trump and Clinton.

The American Psychological Association (APA) recently highlighted news coverage of studies on how athletes express the thrill of Olympic victory or the agony of Olympic defeat. Specifically, its website linked to a Washington Post piece titled, “Why bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists.”

David Matsumoto, the focus of the piece, is a psychology professor at San Francisco State University and former Olympic judo coach. He uses the moment of Olympic victory or defeat to study the question of how human beings express emotions — specifically, which expressions are universal, and which are culturally specific. In a 2009 study published in the journal Psychological Science, he and colleagues examined the facial expressions of 84 judo competitors from 35 countries in the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“In the moments after the athlete won or lost, they made facial expressions of joy, disappointment, surprise and other emotions that were remarkably consistent across countries and cultures. But as the seconds ticked by and the athletes realized they were on the world stage with many cameras pointed at them, their expressions changed in ways that did vary by culture,” reports the Washington Post.

Professor Matsumoto followed this study up with another one considering another natural experiment: comparing the expressions in the moment of victory of blind athletes in the Paralympics — including those congenitally blind from birth.

Once again, in the first few moments after their events all of the athletes expressed emotions of anger, contempt, surprise, happiness, and even triumph the same way. Masumoto describes the “triumph expression” as “a combination of ‘expansion, aggression and attention,’ in which the body expands, posture straightens, the arms raise, and the person stares fiercely at the competition or the audience.”

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The first expression of human emotion is an instinctive, universal part of our simian inheritance. It’s what happens next that is determined by national culture.

I’m not sure what it says about contemporary American culture that one of our best athletes chose to follow up his own “triumph expression” by getting drunk, urinating, vandalizing a gas-station bar, getting into a fight, refusing to pay for damages, then lying to his mom and filing a false police report claiming he was robbed.

In the name of everything that is great about America, I want to apologize to the people of Rio.

America has a man-boy problem.

#share#“Let’s give these kids a break—sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on,” Mario Andrada, communications director for the Rio Games, whom the Washington Post described as the “human shield of Rio,” said on Thursday.

But of course, as many have pointed out, Ryan Lochte is not a kid — he’s a 32-year-old man, or man-boy.

Lochte felt entitled to make up a story of being robbed at gunpoint by people he claimed were Brazilian police.

It would be undignified, but hardly an international press story, if an Olympic gold medal winner merely got drunk and vandalized a gas station bathroom. What makes the Lochte incident stand out is that he felt entitled to make up a story of being robbed at gunpoint by people he claimed were Brazilian police. He repeated that story with “tweaks” for several days to American media until it fell apart when his teammates admitted to police what actually happened.

The Left started claiming this was white privilege at work. Lochte is half Cuban, but he certainly is part of America’s privileged class: college educated with two married parents, one of them a mom who escaped Communism.

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This playboy, this party boy, this failed reality-TV star who didn’t object to naming his now-canceled reality series “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?”, is rich, with no responsibilities except to basic human decency: Don’t trash your host country by claiming a false narrative of police corruption and crime. Tell the truth, apologize, show some shame and a decent respect for the feelings of others. Evidently, this American man-boy was not up to the job, leaving us to feel the shame he has thrust on us.

#related#Winning, carousing, having lots of sex, being sort-of famous, lying to cover up one’s own misdeeds; these are the values of all too many “successful” Americans in the age of Trump and Clinton. I hope Lochte experiences some consequences in the form of reduced value to those corporations who help him cash in on Olympic fame by using his name and face to sell their products: Speedo, Gatorade, Mutual of Omaha, Nissan Altima, Gillette, Proctor & Gamble, are you listening?

Of course, for a man NPR dubbed “the platonic ideal of bro-dom,” the rules may not apply.

As for the rest of us? Fortunately, helpfully, and I must add, ironically, right before posting the story about Professor Matsumoto’s research on human “triumph expressions,” the APA posted another story that just may spare another mother this kind of anguish: “How to Get Your Kids to Apologize and Really Mean It.”

— Maggie Gallagher is the author of four books on marriage and a longtime contributor to National Review.

Editor’s Note: This article originally mistakenly listed AT&T as a corporate sponsor of Ryan Lochte. In fact the company is a former, not a current, sponsor of Lochte.

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