Scott Fowler

Right punishment? Suspend swimmer Ryan Lochte through 2020 Olympics

Finally, Ryan Lochte has apologized.

Now USA Swimming should suspend him for four years to ensure that he does not compete in the 2020 Olympics for the United States.

A suspension for four years for a lie gone bad may sound like a harsh punishment, particularly since USA Swimming only suspended Michael Phelps for three months in 2009 when Phelps was pictured with a marijuana pipe and for six months in 2014 when he was arrested for driving drunk.

I would argue that what Lochte did was worse in terms of the collateral damage it caused to both the U.S. and Brazil in terms of embarrassment and wasted resources. A four-year ban would knock Lochte, 32, out of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Making his fifth Olympic team is Lochte’s next big goal in swimming.

It’s a goal he shouldn’t be allowed to attain.

It is quite possible USA Swimming will choose a penalty of far less severity than a four-year suspension, and that would be a shame. Given that Lochte has already stated that he is going to take an extended break from competitive swimming, a punishment of two years or fewer would be no more than a slap on the wrist for the 12-time Olympic medalist.

U.S. Olympic athletes should be held to a higher standard, and in many ways they are. The constant drug testing they undergo, for instance, is second to none. Their behavior should be exemplary as well, and Lochte and his three American teammates fell so far short of that in the wee hours of Sunday morning that it’s laughable. For his part in vandalizing a gas station restroom, concocting a lie to make it all sound better and forcing the U.S. Olympic Committee to apologize to the people of Brazil, Lochte deserves a four-year ban from USA Swimming events and the national team.

A carefully-worded apology

As for Lochte’s apology on Friday: I’m glad he offered it and had campaigned for him to do so, although it sounded a whole lot like it came straight off a lawyer’s laptop. After being around Lochte on and off for years – including the previous three years he spent in Charlotte before breaking up with the city last week – I can tell you that statement sounds absolutely nothing like the way he talks.

Lochte said in the statement, which he posted on Twitter: “I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend – for not being more careful and candid in how I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics.”

Lochte also said in the apology note that he “should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself” and that “I accept responsibility for my role in this happening and have learned some valuable lessons.”

Lochte never actually admitted in the statement he lied about the events of that night, but the Brazilian police certainly made that clear Thursday during a news conference in Rio. Lochte’s original story of being randomly robbed at gunpoint after his taxi was pulled over by assailants posing as policemen had some chilling details, many of which made Lochte sound heroic and nearly all of which turned out to be false.

There was a key detail in Lochte’s original story provided to NBC on Sunday that was true, though: a gun was brandished in the direction of Lochte and the other three U.S. swimming teammates who were involved in the escapade that night. The security guard waving it around was asking for money to pay for the damage the swimmers caused to the bathroom, where a police chief in Rio said they broke a door, a mirror and a soap dispenser.

Lochte seized on the detail about the gun in his apology to justify his original story once again.

“It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country – with a language barrier – and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave,” he wrote. “But regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself.”

Hey, Ryan, nobody said you needed to be out late with your friends looking for a good time in a foreign country. That one is on you.

Feigen pays to leave Brazil

Lochte bolted out of Brazil before the other three U.S. swimmers, who were left behind to answer to Brazilians angry that their country had been demeaned by the boorish Americans. Jimmy Feigen, the swimmer among the other three who was closest to Lochte and was also his teammate for the past year on Charlotte-based SwimMAC Carolina, is now reportedly having to pay a “donation” of nearly $11,000 to be allowed to leave the country.

Feigen should send Lochte the bill for that. But the other three swimmers with Lochte should also not get off freely – I think each should be banished from USA Swimming for a year. I would give them a far lesser punishment than Lochte, who after all was apparently the ringleader and who is also 32 years old. He’s far too old for the “boys will be boys” excuse to fly.

Some would argue even a four-year ban isn’t enough, that the 12-time Olympic medalist should be banned for life from USA swimming.

I think that’s a bit much. I’m willing to give him another chance if he serves out a four-year punishment, and would even allow him to swim in the 2024 Olympics, if he qualifies.

He’d be 40.