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Ryan Lochte: The Flawed, Human Olympian

by Kevin O'Keeffe | Loyola Marymount University

F Posted in: Sports and Culture, Voices P Posted on: August 20, 2012
Kevin o'keeffe Kevin O'Keeffe

Since the Olympics ended just eight days ago, the conversation in most press circles (especially here at NextGen Journal) has been thoroughly transfixed on one particular Ryan. The resulting media circus has left almost no room to discuss another high-profile Ryan; that is, the gold medalist Olympian-turned-90210 guest star Ryan Lochte.

While debating Paul Ryan’s Medicare position, his Ayn Rand-inspired launch into politics, or his lack of necktie at the VP announcement for the umpteenth time sounds like a load of laughs first thing on a Monday morning, I’d much rather focus on Lochte, the swimmer known more for his reputation out of the pool than in it. Lochte has drawn considerable criticism on the Internet both in and out of the games, and his desire to make a career in Hollywood has only increased the volume of the ire.

Most of the criticism is based around Lochte’s personality: He’s not exactly Mensa’s next top recruit, to say the least, and is widely ridiculed for his exclamations of “jeah” (which, as Jezebel’s Erin Gloria Ryan so brilliantly put it, is “like ‘yeah,’ but said in a way that indicates you may have difficulty pronouncing the ‘y’ sound and could benefit from working with a professional speech therapist”). He even says it in his aforementioned upcoming appearance on 90210, for which he is shirtless the entire time. You can’t say the man doesn’t know his audience.

His own mother thinks he has one-night stands. He’s been declared America’s Sexiest Douchebag. And he wears an absolutely ridiculous American flag grill. Lochte is, in many ways, the court jester of the Olympics: hilarious, but utterly harmless. So why does he get under our skin so easily?

Particularly in America, we elevate our Olympians into the realm of superheroes. They compete at the greatest level of athleticism and we worship them for it. Even the Olympians who screw up – think Michael Phelps and the bong – we forgive, because they’re the best we have. An Olympian who doesn’t stand up to our high standards and expectations is almost a does-not-compute situation: how can such a thing be?

So Lochte, who doesn’t give good interview sound bites, wouldn’t be the conventional choice to bring home to Mom, and is unapologetic about it all, defies the Olympic standard. The big question is: so what? Why should he have to be the idealized Olympian? His job is to swim well and represent our country, and he did that with aplomb. He was a gold medalist for Team USA, and what he does after that has nothing to do with him as an Olympian and everything to do with him as Ryan Lochte.

Not every athlete who competes at the Olympics is going to be a role model. Some of them are going to do stupid things not because they’re screw-ups, but because they’re human – a fact we often forget when thinking about our Olympic heroes. Lochte is making clear through his words and actions exactly the kind of man he is, and frankly, I applaud him for it. If he was attempting to project himself as something he’s not, that would be far more insulting to us as an American people. He’s comfortable with who he is, and as such, we should be comfortable with who he is, too.

Plus, if his career in Hollywood leads to more hilarious quotes like “Memorizing lines and trying to like say them and still do movement, that was hard,” I simply cannot wait for what he does next.

Kevin O'Keeffe Kevin O'Keeffe Born in San Antonio, Texas, raised in Austin, Texas, and now going to school in Los Angeles, California at Loyola Marymount University. Screenwriting major. Managing editor for the Los Angeles Loyolan. Follow me at @kokeeffe22 on Twitter.

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