This morning as I drove work listening to the radio, the hosts were making fun of Ryan Lochte. The story came about because he recently appeared on a television show where the anchors made fun of him after interviewing him. He appeared to promote his new show, --“What would Ryan Lochte do?” I am here to say, stop making fun of Ryan Lochte.
I know, I know, it is super fun to make fun of him (as my co-worker pointed out during lunch today). There is something about that shiny grill and the fact that he says some horrifying things that makes a girl cringe. But, why do people feel so justified in making fun of him? He is a very successful athlete, a public figure, and let’s not forget, smoking hot. His athleticism propelled him to the forefront of our television screens along with his determination to beat out his adversary, Michael Phelps. A feat, he was ultimately, unsuccessful in accomplishing. But, if an Olympian can’t be confident, who can? Perhaps what makes us so quick to laugh at him is what we perceive as his “overconfidence.” Our belief that his abilities begin and end at the pool and that he should not delve into other areas for which he has failed to prepare adequately. His prowess in the pool speaks to innate talent combined with extraordinary perseverance and an astonishing work ethic. But, I have heard him called “talentless” and "dumb" (the radio host this morning’s words), a douchebag (Jezebel), and a golden lab turned into a human (Gawker, although I am still not entirely convinced this would be a bad thing). Overconfidence has certainly resulted in worse things than a reality television show. (If there are in fact worse things than reality TV shows.) Therefore, this is an insufficient justification.
Some assert that Ryan’s (we are on a first name basis now) idiocy cannot be real and liken it to Jessica Simpson – the early years. Well, Jessica rode that tuna fish train all the way to the bank and Ryan likely will too if that’s the case. But, perhaps that is not his game. What then? What if he is just a human being, with a particular skill, who also happens to be astonishingly good looking, that someone put on TV? It wouldn’t be the first time. It is how Kim Kardashian became famous (having not seen her video I cannot comment on the skill involved, but think the comparison is valid nonetheless.) Alternatively, perhaps we are looking in on a world, a world of an elite athlete, that really is foreign to us and judging it for its' otherness along the lines of “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding?” We live in an age when people tune in each week to watch a little girl drinking Mountain Dew engaging in crazy behavior, so it should come as no surprise that watching an alarmingly cut athlete do the same would end up on television.
Maybe we accept that if someone is willing to put himself or herself in the public eye, they are then fair game. Regardless of what else they have done or who they may be, they have opened themselves up to the ridicule that comes from occupying that space. Once they are in that space we can insult them and call them names. What does that say about who we are? I'm no angel. Just yesterday I called a total stranger a douchebag. In my defense, he was a cigarette smoking hipster wearing a toddler backpack, but the point is I should know better. I should be a better role model. I teach my toddler not to call people names, not to hurt other people's feelings and to never ever use the words stupid or dumb.
Recently, at Oliver's preschool, a student introduced the word stupid. I don't know who it was, -- heck, if they used the word in Finding Nemo, it could have been Oliver. Since that time, Oliver has repeatedly called himself stupid when he has done something wrong. I assure you, he is not. In fact, he is deviously clever. He has called me stupid. I also, am not. Although, I suspect that, to him, many of my rules are. His teacher reports that he called one of the boys in his class stupid. When informed that it wasn't a nice thing to say, his response was: "but he is stupid." This is the most disturbing. The teacher indicated that the classmate in question was somewhat less mature. So, Oliver knew exactly what he was doing when he called the student stupid. Apparently, I had not done enough to prevent this kind of behavior before it started. It is not at all acceptable that he thinks it is okay to make that kind of statement. We have spent a significant amount of time in recent weeks, talking about his use of words and the damage that words can do.
Which is why the radio show and the viral video bothered me so much today. When did it become okay, ever, to publicly laugh at someone behind their back as the news anchors did? When did it become okay to call people names?
I will probably never watch Ryan’s show; it’s not my thing. However, as I was thinking about that radio broadcast this morning and the television broadcast that precipitated it, I did a little research on him. As I waded through the articles listing the dumbest things he has said, I came across one thing that really stood out. He said, “With swimming I've been known to cut out everything. The crowd, everything. Just focus on me and my lane and what I need to accomplish so I can do that pretty much in life too." I genuinely hope that anyone and everyone who is made fun of, mocked, and laughed at, has the same presence of mind, to focus on themselves and shut out the noise.