I’ve found myself rooting for Ryan Lochte since his return to the national stage in summer 2019. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why that’s the case — he has repeatedly brought negative attention to the sport and to himself for making undeniably poor choices, and yet, I’m always drawn back by his “party boy-turned-family man” narrative.
His latest foray to the small screen, “In Deep with Ryan Lochte” – while entertaining – did little to quell that confusion.
The 69-minute film is a well-executed attempt by NBC to paint Lochte as a sympathetic figure. I teared up at times, laughed at others, oohed and awed over his kids, and found his work ethic admirable. On a surface level, content-hungry swim fans will enjoy the insider look at one of the sport’s biggest stars.
- “In Deep with Ryan Lochte” is available for free on Peacock, the new streaming service from NBCUniversal.
But I also was appalled at footage surrounding the infamous Rio incident – much of which I hadn’t seen before – which dragged an entire nation through the mud before Lochte’s story was revealed as fraudulent. And then I sympathized when Lochte discusses how the ordeal affected him, financially and emotionally. And then I rolled my eyes again at his IV fluids suspension, but I felt for him as he changed his son’s diaper in the middle of a gym. You get the point.
Then I considered: in this day and age, why are we so quick to forgive Lochte? And I don’t have an answer.
We give Lochte the benefit of the doubt that he is a “good guy” at heart, while minorities around the United States can only dream of being afforded the same. Innocent Black people are being shot dead in their homes while Lochte is on a redemption tour. Even in swimming, for that matter, Sun Yang has been cast aside as a villain for not-dissimilar behavior — he’s just “othered” by a Western audience.
Maybe it’s because Lochte’s long been a flashy, charismatic figure in a sport that doesn’t have an excess of them, and that’s exciting. Or maybe it’s because his raw talent, removed from his antics, was (and maybe is?) practically unmatched. “In Deep” doesn’t really answer the question.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch the documentary – you absolutely should – and I’m not saying you can’t root for Lochte. But we owe it to the current national moment to watch it with a skeptical eye.