Our house has been a buzz with everything Olympics over the past two weeks. There have been phenomenal lessons about effort, grit, and sportsmanship. We have felt national pride and global pride and smiled and cheered together for the last two weeks. My family of 4 boys has dropped their jaws in admiration of women athletes, and learned to respect sports they have never heard of. But perhaps no lesson has been greater or more pointed than that of Ryan Lochte.
Truly a modern day allegory, Lochte has been dinner table talk for the past few nights, and his mistakes are magnifying the importance of truth. Our talk started with honesty and how important integrity is. Here is an Olympic athlete, surely someone with serious self-control and self-mastery, who decided to lie in order to save face. He was willing to sacrifice his honor in order to mask his mistakes. We talked about how one lie almost always leads to another, and soon enough you find yourself far from your moral center, sometimes not even understanding how you got there.
We talked about how he could have changed his choices at any point, and changed the situation. He could have chosen not to get drunk and party until the early morning hours. He could have chosen not to vandalize property. When he was caught, he could have made things right instead of running away.
Even had he made wrong choices up to that point, the next morning, he could have come clean. He didn’t need to make up or embellish a story in order to cover up his own misguided actions. He could have involved Olympic officials and made things right for the store owner and for himself. He could have stayed in the country until things were settled and his teammates were taken care of. It is never too late to tell the truth. But he didn’t do any of these things. He watched out for only himself and walked away from responsibility as quickly as he could, until he was caught.
Life is a funny thing, and lies almost always catch up with you. By placing priority on his own image, he ruined it all. Instead of hurting just himself, he hurt his friends, his family, and his country. What started as a white lie could quite possibly be the unraveling of an entire career. What if he had just told the truth?
We talked about how lies, even small ones are serious stuff. The more comfortable you get stretching the truth, the easier it becomes to believe that what you are doing isn’t wrong. If you are always honest, even in the small things, you will never be caught up in the big ones.
And what about those three friends that he put in such an impossible spot? A great reminder to never be someone’s posse. Never shy away from telling the truth. Don’t be a follower. At the end of the day, your integrity is all you have…don’t let someone weasel it away from you.
I watched Lochte as Matt Lauer interviewed him on Sunday, and he has some time before it all sinks in, before he truly realizes the consequences of his actions. I wanted him to be more forthcoming and less prepped. I wanted to see his heart, which was surely being protected by a slew of PR people and attorneys.
But I am a big believer in change and forgiveness and boy do I love a good redemption story. I hope in four years he is a comeback kid, an underdog, swimming again in the Olympics at 36…with a lot more perspective, maturity and humility. I would love to use him as another Olympic lesson, again about hard work, determination, and beating the odds. About change and becoming. As he said to Lauer, “I hope I can become that role model for little kids. I know that I can change.” I hope so too, Ryan. I hope so too.
Photo Credit: By Ubcwwong – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27379100