By: Joey Chesir  | 

The Real Contributions of Olympic Athletes

In August, the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, allowed spectators the chance to witness remarkable athletic achievements in a wide variety of competitions. These contests included many sports that are less familiar to the public audience than the major sports leagues, such as the National Basketball Association or National Football League in America. During this years Olympiad, a number of notable athletes, such as track and field legend Usain Bolt and swimming icon Michael Phelps, put on incredible displays of athletic ability and pushed the boundaries of performance. However, this years Olympic competition was also clouded with several controversies, including the arrest of American swimmer Ryan Lochte and the outbreak of the Zika virus, which led to a number of athletes withdrawing from the Games because of health and safety concerns. These controversies generated a large amount of negative attention, specifically after being publicized by the media, which marred an otherwise exceptional sporting event. It would be much more worthwhile to recognize the level of excellence reached by athlete at the Rio Olympics than this specific scandal, even without considering the fact that the plethora of achievements at the Olympics occurred at a much higher frequency than Lochtes transgressions, which were confined to one evening of mishaps.


Initially, Ryan Lochte claimed to have been mugged, along with several of his swimming teammates by individuals brandishing police badges. Afterwards, while attempting to board a plane to America, two of Lochtes teammates who were present during the incident in question were apprehended by Brazilian Authorities, who removed them from the plane in order to question them about the events. Eventually, it was revealed that Lochte had over-exaggerated a number of details about the incident, and had failed to mention that he and his teammates had caused damages in a bathroom at the gas station where the event had occurred. After the details of Lochtes transgressions were revealed and publicized, Lochte faced a brutal fallout from the scandal. Lochte lost several endorsement deals, and a significant amount of media analysis and scrutiny was devoted to the scandal. Lochte’s public image became tarnished, with many labelling him as dishonest. It is certainly true that Lochte acted improperly in this instance, and surely worsened matters by propagating an incorrect version of what truly transpired.  


Lochte should undoubtedly face justice and be subject to whatever punishment imposed on him by Brazilian authorities, just like anyone else who breaks the law. However, it is important to understand that Lochte is exactly like anyone else who breaks the law, and that his status as a successful Olympian should have absolutely no impact on any punishment that he may face. Lochte committing a crime is in no way different from anyone else in the world committing that crime. This is because specific crimes do not change in magnitude based on who commits them. Lochte is not the first person to lie to the police, and probably not even the first athlete. It is unjust to scrutinize and demonize him specifically for this crime, while ignoring others who do the same thing. To excessively scrutinize this incident is unjust. Presumably, those who do so arent discussing the crime because of the extent of Lochtes transgression, but rather because the crime was committed by a famous athlete. Lochte should only be penalized for what hes done by the authorities, not the public and the media who are fixated by Lochtes celebrity status, and are only aware of the crime in question because of it.


Lochtes legal troubles highlight an important issue with how the public and media perceive athletes. Lochte, like any other well-known athlete, is well-known because of his achievements in the athletic arena. However, his many accomplishments should not impact his actions within other areas of his life including his moral character or relationships. Therefore, the media and public should focus on his accomplishments alone, because who he is as a person is not what has brought him into the public eye to begin with. Any time the legal, ethical, or even emotional issues of a well-known athlete are emphasized as much as the accomplishments that made him or her well-known to begin with, those who scrutinize are essentially saying that those issues become more important when they surround an athlete, as opposed to an ordinary person. This is simply a false notion. Furthermore, it is unfair to give so much attention to one athletes legal issues while taking away attention from the achievements of other law abiding athletes, who should be given the spotlight for actually contributing something positive. Athletes, like anyone else, should receive recognition for their contributions to their fields, but that does not mean that their actions outside those fields should be analyzed with the same intensity.


When we appreciate the vast number of positive benefits of the Olympics, in addition to the performances of Olympic athletes, Lochte’s incident seems like an afterthought. It certainly goes without saying that  the Rio Olympics featured a wide variety of athletes accomplishing remarkable feats within an expansive number of sports. The Olympics is important for athletics in general for a number of additional reasons Firstly, the Olympics served as a truly international athletic contest, where athletes often competed against rivals from countries they previously would had little exposure to.


Additionally, the Olympic games, in both the summer and winter, consist of many sports that the average sports fan may not have exposure to. If not for this year’s Summer Olympics, sports fans around the world would not be able to observe the exploits of gymnastics phenom Simone Biles, or watch Phelps’ age-defying dominance of swimming. Both Phelps (who has compiled an unprecedented twenty-three Olympic medals in his lifetime) and Biles won several gold medals, and have unquestionably reached the pinnacle of their respective sports, which the casual viewer is only aware of because of the Olympics. Several Olympic sports such as track and field, swimming, volleyball, and gymnastics, do not have yearlong competitions similar to annual seasons in professional sports leagues, like the NBA or the NFL.


For athletes who participate in these sports, the Olympics often represents the highest level of performance in which they can compete. The Olympics, which only takes place every four years, is one of the only chances athletes like these may have at winning at the highest level of competition, and making contributions to the sports that they have devoted themselves to. This is in stark contrast to professional basketball or football players, who always have another chance to return to winning form the next season if they disappoint. For this reason, it is particularly important to recognize the achievements of Olympic athletes, for whom the Olympics is their greatest opportunity to succeed in their sports, and who use the games as an arena in which to perform incredible athletic feats.


Athletes, including Ryan Lochte, are notable for their sporting achievements, not any positive or negative areas of their personal lives.To focus on Lochte’s legal mishaps while devoting less attention to the incredible performances of athletes at the Olympics is detrimental to the vast majority of athletes at the Olympics. The Olympic Games represents the highest level of performance for a multitude of sports, many of which may have been previously unfamiliar for fans, and may prove to be instrumental in increasing attention toward those sports for future participants and viewers. The performances of Biles, Bolt, Phelps, and many other athletes were certainly the hallmark of the Rio Olympics, more deserving than the legal mishaps of any one athlete in particular.  The remarkable accomplishments of Olympic athletes should define the legacy of this year’s competition.