WELL, IT HAPPENED. A FAMOUS OLYMPIAN was robbed at gunpoint. Ryan Lochte and four other Olympic swimmers were held up at gunpoint in Rio during the Olympics. The story was first broken by Lochte’s mother. The International Olympic Committee quickly denied the incident, and then it was confirmed yesterday by Lochte himself.
No one was hurt, and only their wallets were taken. The officers let them keep their cell phones and their credentials. So while the story is scary, it’s not a tragic one. But it’s worth taking a moment to learn a few lessons from Lochte’s experience.
1. Don’t be a hero.
Lochte explained what happened in an interview with NBC.
“We got pulled over, in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground.
“And then the guy pulled out his gun, he cocked it, put it to my forehead and he said, ‘Get down,’ and I put my hands up, I was like ‘whatever.’ He took our money, he took my wallet — he left my cell phone, he left my credentials.”
Let’s do a quick safety lesson: Refusing an order from someone with a gun is not a good idea. People have been killed for less. You should also know, before you go to a city, what type of crime is common, and what you’re dealing with. Lochte’s experience is similar to that of Jason Lee, a jiu-jitsu athlete who was briefly kidnapped in Rio a few weeks before the Olympics by men dressed as police officers, and was forced to go to ATMs to withdraw money for them.
So even if Lochte and his fellow swimmers had been kidnapped, it would likely have been for a brief period of time, and all that would have been lost was money. Heroics, in this case, are pointless and dumb. If someone aims a gun at you, it’s wisest to do what they say. This is not the time to stand up for justice, or to look like a badass.
2. Crime hurts everyone.
Brazil has had a crime problem for a long time. But for years, it was on the decline. It has started spiking again recently thanks in part to political crises and the country’s economic recession. The causes of crime are insanely complex, but they include things like poverty, income inequality, and drugs.
In the run-up to the Olympics, Brazilian authorities attempted to crack down on crime, but not by addressing the root causes — by literally ridding the streets in the nicer parts of town of street children. Street children in Brazil have often run away from home because of drugs or abuse, and are forced to get involved with whomever will take them in: street gangs for the boys, prostitution rings for the girls. Police have been accused of executing street children without trial or charge.
Rio residents have to deal with crime and violence on a day-to-day basis. Lochte’s robbery is a reminder that even we travelers, we privileged few, can’t escape the repercussions of injustice happening in other countries.
3. There are literally hundreds of less prominent victims in these Olympics.
Lochte’s robbery will make news because he’s a fantastic swimmer and a mega-bro who does ridiculously bro-y things like try to trademark the meaningless word, “Jeah.” But he’s going to go home, and he’s going to be fine. There are hundreds of other people who will not be fine after these Olympics.
Brazil is in rough shape. The Olympics and the World Cup were both insanely expensive for a country that couldn’t really afford them, at a time when they could’ve been spending on stuff like education, poverty reduction, and infrastructure. Economic recessions like the one Brazil is experiencing have human costs. Crime is one of those costs.
Don’t forget about Rio when the Olympics end. People will still be there, and will still be in need long after the Olympics have gone.