Hayes: White male privilege colors U.S. Olympic controversies

25HayesB
In top photo, Gabby Douglas (second from right) during the national anthem; Hope Solo (lower left photo) and Ryan Lochte.

What does it say about the United States that the hangover from Rio2016 centers on the words of Hope Solo, the medal pose of Gabby Douglas and the dismissive nature surrounding the Ryan Lochte debacle?

It says that white male privilege is alive and well here in ’Merica.

In this moment, just days after the closing ceremony, these issues should not still overshadow the ageless dominance of Michael Phelps, the continued emergence of Katie Ledecky and Matthew Centrowitz’s gold in the 1,500-meter “metric” mile, the first U.S. win in 108 years.

Still, these ancillary issues continue to bear weight, for all of the wrong reasons.

First, to Douglas, a black woman who failed to place her hand over her heart on the podium while the national anthem played during a medal ceremony. For this she was castigated, mainly on social media, to the point she felt compelled to apologize and explain the act was inadvertent. She is an Olympic hero. She owed no one an explanation. But she is black, and she is on a podium.

Certainly, no outrage arose (and none should have) when, after he won his 20th gold medal, Phelps burst into laughter during the anthem when his pals in the crowd punctuated the lyrics with an exuberant “O!” – a trademark at Orioles games in Phelps’ hometown of Baltimore. Phelps meant no disrespect, and none was perceived.

But then, Phelps is a white man. He can laugh when he likes, or talk with the other swimmers on the podium, or whatever. Clearly, his podium decorum is graded on a different scale from a young black woman’s.

Now, for Lochte, who, along with three younger swimming teammates, fabricated a story to cover up their frat-boy antics in the wee hours after they attended a party in Rio. Lochte lied about being sideswiped by what he believed to be police car; lied about having a cocked and loaded gun placed on his forehead by a robber posing as a policeman; lied about his own “whatever” reaction to the robber’s demands.

The initial reaction: “Let’s give these kids a break.” Lochte is 32.

Remarkably, even after Lochte lost four sponsors and might be suspended by various governing bodies that sentiment lingers. A recent “investigative report” from USA Today has cast doubt on the details of the night produced by Brazilian investigators – an investigative report that involved USA Today visiting the gas station in question and talking with Lochte’s lawyer but not interviewing any investigators or employees connected with the incident.

Imagine the outrage if, four years ago, LeBron James concocted a tale in which he, Tyson Chandler, Anthony Davis and Deron Williams were sideswiped, illegally stopped and then robbed at gunpoint by white London cops.

Imagine the howls if, in 1996, Canadian 100-meter champion Donovan Bailey made a similar claim but, in fact, he and three other runners had actually stopped at a Circle K, peed in the bushes and ripped down a framed “Jerry Maguire” poster – the mildest recounting of what the swimmers might have done that night – then said two white guys dressed as cops pressed a cocked and loaded revolver to Bailey’s forehead.

Bailey was 28 when he won gold. LeBron was 27 in London. They would not have been considered “kids.”

Lochte and several news outlets continue to recount his incendiary lies about the time, place, sequence and context of events as “overexaggerating.”

Bailey or LeBron would simply be called what they would have been: liars. USA Today would not seek to exonerate them. The show Dancing With the Stars certainly would not be courting them, as it reportedly is courting Lochte … but then, DWTS has featured Jerry Springer and professional Jackass Steve O, so maybe Lochte meets their criteria.

Finally, to Solo, a woman who had the temerity to call the Swedish soccer team and its coach “cowardly” for playing conservatively after the teams played to a 1-1 tie and the U.S. lost in a shootout. U.S. Soccer announced that Solo would be suspended for six months and, according to USA Today, her contract was terminated.

Solo has long been a controversial presence, with a history of insubordination and inappropriate behavior, for which she has paid. She has a pending case in which she is accused of domestic violence, but that allegation, from 2014, never spurred a suspension.

To suspend and fire her now for candid postgame comments that were perhaps unsportsmanlike (if not entirely inaccurate) is absurd. She will appeal.

“She was fired for making comments that no man would have been fired for making,” Rich Nichols, executive director of the United States Women’s National Team Players Association, told USA Today.

He’s right.

It’s hard to believe that superstar goalkeeper Tim Howard would ever have been suspended and fired had he lodged a similar complaint about an opponent after an Olympic match.

Then again, Howard’s dad is African American, so …