I am glad I waited for Matt Lauer’s interview with Ryan Lochke (8/22/16 Today Show) because the preceding slam of headlines portrayed Ryan as a jerk from a despised fraternity. Yes, his early statements deserved harsh judgment from both Americans and Brazilians, but it’s clear he finally got close to “getting it” in the apology department on the Today Show.
The proof that an apology is effective can be revealed in the hearts and reactions of the injured parties.
Focusing on the Brazilians, just imagine being called third-world for decades. Imagine getting tagged a banana republic by journalists, tourists, even politicians for a lifetime. Imagine being constantly demeaned as some family’s poor relation longer than anyone should bear. But in face of all that, you still throw the biggest possible wedding for your rich cousins, expending all of your resources, and then you get branded inferior during a toast by the best man who makes international headlines effectively calling you a violent, low-class relative.
Ryan Lochke effectively had done that, but he clearly moderated his message in this last interview with Lauer.
He owned up to the facts as he knew them and also to the evidence provided by local police and others. He took full blame for his role in vandalism, intoxication, and confrontational behavior with the Brazilians who pulled him out of a taxi and demanded restitution. He owned up to messing with the truth in early interviews.
And yes, he did express regret to the Brazilians. He acknowledged they put on a great Olympics. He said the people of Rio were warm, welcoming, and generous and that they did not deserve the smear he launched with bad behavior and thoughtlessness in front of the world press.
But did these words change the minds and hearts of the injured Brazilians? Did they look like a real apology?
Probably not. Victims understand actions more than words. Certainly Ryan Lochke’s current and future sponsors will understand actions more than words. To take an example we can all relate to, if I break your window, I not only replace the pane, but I might also pay a carpenter to repair and paint the frame around the glass, then invite you over for a barbeque to celebrate a new relationship. We all know this as atonement. Unfortunately for Lochke, his atonement would have to be on a scale far beyond the stuff he broke in a bathroom. Personally, I would hate to see Ryan wait around and end up succumbing to penalities possibly applied by the IOC or by American Olympics interests. Right now, he could announce measures of sincere atonement that would likely hit both hearts and minds of Brazilians, his teammates, and all of us in America who are embarrassed. He could very well regain respect.
Ryan Lochte surely wants to regain his image as a great Olympian. Probably his best chance is to be a Great Atoner. For instance, he could fly back to Brazil right now and directly apologize to the property owner he hurt, the security guards he disrespected, the local Olympic committee he offended, the national leaders whose fortunes and sweat were laid on the line to pull the Olympics off, and the millions of people whose pride was hurt. Beyond that, if Lochke does this right, he will continue to get endorsement contracts that he can leverage to provide trust funds for much needed causes in Brazil, perhaps especially for young athletes and scholars.
And even if atonement, even the sincerest form of it, does not win over hearts and minds, the very act itself is healing and the right thing to do.