Hope Solo

Lochte gets 10 months: big whoop


Ryan Lochte gets a 10-month suspension. To share the insight offered by a teen observer: big whoop.

You know who the big winner here is? Ryan Lochte.

That conclusion is as undeniable as it is undesirable. It is also, despite the best intentions of Olympic and swim officials, the most profoundly disappointing part of this entire episode — all of it, from start to finish.

Ryan Lochte and Cheryl Burke in this week's DWTS publicity tour // Getty Images

From Ryan Lochte’s perspective, it was all about Ryan Lochte on that boozy night in Rio. For the next week, it was all about Ryan Lochte instead of the scores of other athletes, American and otherwise, chasing their own Olympic dreams in Brazil.

Even since then, too. Since being back in the States from Rio, there have been only two main questions — one, how was it and, two, what about Ryan Lochte?

On Wednesday night, in the hours after TMZ broke the story of the 10-month suspension, it was still all about Lochte — instead of the athletes on U.S. Paralympic team or the Paralympic opening ceremony back in Rio.

And it was all about Lochte on Thursday, when the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming formally announced the sanction. The USA Today headline: “Lochte’s Brazil gas station pals also suspended.”

Dude seriously could not have scripted this any better in advance of being on “Dancing with the Stars.”

Think about this:

In Rio, Lochte put the USOC and USA Swimming between a rock and a hard place. Then he did the exact same thing this week — those sports officials caught between wanting to impose sanction and the deadline of wanting to make that sanction public before next Monday’s season premiere of DWTS.

For that matter, the USOC and USA Swimming were in the same sort of rock-and-hard place dilemma in making it plain Lochte and the three others — Jimmy Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger — had to be expecting a formal response. In embarrassing themselves, they also embarrassed the USOC and USA Swimming. So something had to be done. But what should that something be, and to what purpose?

Lochte also loses $100,000 in medal bonus money. That’s inconsequential in comparison to the four sponsors who have dropped him. But another has already said it intends to pick him up so he is clearly the farthest thing from radioactive.

The other three got four months away from the U.S. national team. Big whoop.

Bentz is back in college at Georgia. Conger is at Texas. They still can swim for their college teams.

Clockwise: Feigen, Lochte, Conger, Bentz // Getty Images

Lochte has to do 20 hours of community service, Bentz 10 for violating the Olympic Village curfew rules for athletes under 21. As swimming’s world governing body, FINA, pointed out, the International Olympic Committee insisted on a community service element.

Bottom line:

It’s all profoundly disturbing.

Lochte is not a bad guy. Indeed, he can be a very good guy — always willing to sign autographs, especially for kids. He is personable. He can be very likable.

On the theory that everyone has to navigate his or her own path in this life, let’s be honest: there have to be moments when it can’t be easy being Ryan Lochte, with 12 Olympic medals, when Michael Phelps has 28.

Even so, there is so much that remains so troubling.

In late June, GQ magazine published a feature entitled “The De-Broing of Ryan Lochte,” in which he avowed that the 2016 version of himself that would be on display in Rio would be “more mature.”

After Rio, this from Lochte in People magazine:

“I made things up. I didn’t tell the truth.  And that’s on me. I messed up and made a big mistake, and I’m sorry.”

Even if you want to believe him — and there is, again, a lot of good in Lochte — it’s wholly unclear that he gets it.

To be clear: that is not a referendum on Lochte’s intelligence. He is not dumb. Really, he is not.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because I have a big heart, and I feel like [I] let down a lot of people,” he also told the magazine. “I feel bad that I have let people down.”

All good. Except for what he said next:

“It sucks that it was one of the main focuses of the Olympics. That’s what stinks. The media blew it up and talked about it. It got out of control, and this was all anyone could talk about.”

The media blew it up? Hello?

“Everyone started watching it and they didn’t watch the athletes. That’s another reason why I’m so hurt by it, because it took away from the Games.”

Ryan Lochte is hurting?

Where is the responsibility and accountability?

That whole actions-matter-more-than-words thing, you know.

The straight line from peeing on a gas station wall to lying about it to abandoning your teammates to deal for themselves with the consequences to being featured on one of America’s most popular television shows makes for a discordant message — a bad, very bad disconnect — when it comes to the values the Olympic movement, the USOC and USA Swimming purport to stand for.

Here was Lochte, in Rio, before the partying but after his last race, fifth in the 200-meter IM, off the podium:

“In life, in swimming, in sports, there are always ups and downs. It is what you do when you have those downs who make you what you are.”

Actions, words, etc.

It’s not that Lochte is going on DWTS. It’s that he’s going now — without taking a hard look at who he is and, in particular, the role alcohol plays in his decision-making.

At 32, he knows the bro thing comes with a sell-by date. But talking about it is one thing and acting like the mature role model he should be apparently another. The question he has yet to examine, and far away from the spotlight: why is he saying one thing and doing another?

For the sake of discussion, which requires in this context putting aside for a moment the peeing and the lying — it’s also a fair question to ask whether Lochte should have stuck around Rio. That is, should he have left Brazil when he did?

Should he, in essence, have kept to his regularly scheduled programming?

Or is the idea of “justice” in Brazil so fundamentally different that he did the right thing by getting out of dodge?

Here’s what Lochte should have done:

The moment Conger and Bentz were dragged off a plane, that is the instant Lochte should have called the USOC and USA Swimming and asked, what can or should I do?

Did he?

Looking at this from another angle:

Lochte didn’t hurt anyone. When Phelps was arrested for driving under the influence, it was because he was deemed a menace to the public health. So: why is Lochte getting more?

Because this is apples and oranges. Luckily, Phelps didn’t hurt anyone. And what’s at issue here is reputation and credibility — for Lochte, the USOC and USA Swimming.

In a statement sent to USA Today, Lochte’s lawyer, Jeff Ostrow, said, “We accept the decision as [we] believe it is in everyone’s best interest to move forward, adding in the next paragraph, “That said, in my oinion, while the collective sanctions appear to be harsh when considering what actually happened that day — Ryan did not commit a crime, he did not put the public safety at risk and he did not cheat in his sport — we will leave it to others to evaluate the appropriateness of the penalties.”

That sort of thing is called advocating for your client.

Back to reality: Phelps got six months. U.S. soccer goalie Hope Solo got six months, too. So six was a starting place for Lochte.

And yet — 10 months away from competition won’t achieve anything, practically speaking.

Frankly, it’s laughable.

Yes, it’s 10 months, ending in June 2017, with a plus — just the way Phelps had to stay away from the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia, Lochte will now be ineligible for the 2017 worlds in Budapest next July.

So what?

The 10 months is time Lochte would have taken off, anyway.

He was never going to be serious about 2017. In Rio, after that 200 IM, he said:

“It has been a long journey. I think now it is time for me to take a break, mentally and physically, to just get myself back to when I was a little kid having fun again. i can’t say this is my last time swimming. So we will see what happens.”

Ryan Lochte in Rio, before it all blew up // Getty Images

For two, as the Wall Street Journal reported in a story midway through the Rio Games, Phelps’ lengthy post-London break may now well serve as a template for others, especially older athletes such as Lochte, who is now 32. Why grind away for four solid years when, as Phelps proved conclusively, you can train less — push for maybe 18 months — and still win bunches of medals? For his part, Phelps turned 31 in late June.

For three, in keeping Phelps away from the 2015 Kazan worlds, USA Swimming could not have been any more clear about how it views what is purportedly the marquee event on the FINA calendar in odd-numbered years. Same for Lochte and 2017 in Budapest.

A note: Lochte will now lose out on the chance to win a fifth straight 200 IM worlds gold. Same theme: so what? He already has four, and fifth at the 2016 Olympics hardly makes him the odds-on 2017 favorite.

For four, and this is a nugget that swim geeks would understand immediately but takes just a few words of explanation for a wider audience:

Leaving U.S. college racing aside, because it is measured in yards, there are two kinds of racing at the world-class level, both in meters: long-course events, such as the Olympics or the (2017 Budapest) worlds, which take part in a 50-meter pool, and short-course, over a 25-meter set-up.

Lochte has for years been one of the few U.S. swimmers to excel at both, a mainstay of the U.S. short-course team.

Anytime Lochte wants, he can start racing short-course to get himself back up to speed. So it’s way off the mark, as some might suggest, that Lochte’s career is at a dead-end for two or maybe even three years, until the 2019 long-course worlds, now set for Gwangju, South Korea.

At the DWTS “cast reveal” party this week in New York, Lochte also told People, “I’m excited for, not only myself, but everyone else to forget about what happened and to move forward. I think that’s what the biggest thing is — what we’re gonna do is just move forward and show off my dancing skills.”

Just — so troubling. All around.

Recalibrating the apocalypse narrative


From the Department of the Obvious: many if not most pre-Games reports of the 2016 Rio Olympics bore the tone of prophecies signaling the Biblical end of days.

From the same department: this did not happen.

It is now a week since the 2016 Games came to a close. Thus the logical follow-up question: why, before the August 5 opening ceremony, did Rio produce so many projections if not outright declarations of imminent doom?

Closing ceremony at the Rio 2016 Games // Getty Images

And the corollary: going forward, isn’t it worth serious reflection and reconsideration from the many who predicted the sky would fall — not just about what they produced but about the role and value of the Olympics in our fragile world.

To be clear, the Olympics do not represent, nor have they ever, an exercise in perfection. That is not possible nor even in the least bit desirable. What the Olympics stand for is an appeal to our better selves and the notion of certain ideals, in particular friendship, excellence and respect.

To be even more clear, the Olympic movement is itself full of imperfections. This is natural. We are all human, and we are flawed. All the more so the International Olympic Committee.

Yet a Games produces a moment — 17 days, really — when athletes from all over the world, young people in the main, gather and don’t kill each other. This is not meant to be glib. The timeline of human history is replete with conflict over connection. The Olympics provide a way and a means for all of us to explore the things we have in common rather than exploiting our differences.

This is a unique thing in the annals of the human experience. It is worth celebrating.

And yet.

The IOC for sure can, and should, do a better job both of acknowledging its shortcomings and of explaining the constructive things it does, and why. Bid committees, and the follow-on organizing committees, absolutely can and should be held accountable when they over-promise and under-deliver -- see, for instance, the Rio 2016 bid's assertion that it would clean up the local bays and beaches.

Of course, it's news -- appropriately so -- when the oceanfront bike path in Rio collapsed because of high surf, killing two people.

In that spirit, it's also more than legitimate to observe that infrastructure projects in Rio, and in other recent Games cities, were either designed to or in practice have benefitted primarily the affluent. Too, Olympic-related projects have often seen the authorities push people out of their homes. Here is a key example where bid and organizing committees -- pushed by the IOC -- ought to be on the hook from the get-go, required to state in bidding documents what, if any, relocations will be required to deliver promised construction.

For all that:

No one likes criticism, least of all my colleagues, friends and otherwise in the media.

But — to the collective you:

Your scare stories were absurd. Your level of expectation: ridiculous. Your predictions of far-reaching calamity: 100 percent wrong.

The developed world’s assessment and pre-Games judgment of developing Brazil smacked, in many instances, of smug privilege if not the very worst strands of colonialism and imperialism. Why expect Rio to be London or Vancouver?

Social media amplified the predictions of catastrophe. A threat on Reddit was dedicated to the “Apocalympics.”

Consider the Zika thing — which, among other consequences, purportedly led to the withdrawal of many top male golfers from golf’s debut at the Olympics.

The World Health Organization said last Thursday that no one appears to have caught Zika at the Games. That means, according to WHO, “spectators, athletes or anyone associated with the Olympics.”

To be even more direct — not one worker at the Rio golf grounds.

Yet the world’s top guy pros wouldn't or couldn’t go?

Hello, everybody — when did it dawn on you that August in Brazil is like February in the northern hemisphere and the mosquito populations in Rio would be way, way down? I was in Rio from July 28 through August 22 and literally did not see, hear or feel even one mosquito.

For that matter — what of the onset of the virus in Puerto Rico? Or South Florida?

As an entirely reasonable pre-Games CBC story pointed out, there was entirely more risk in Rio from street crime, getting hit by a bus or developing a sexually transmitted disease than from Zika.

Translation: life. Like being out and about in any big city anywhere.

Would you know that from the hysteria level of the reportage?

Which leads, in a direct line, to this kind of abject stupidity from the likes of U.S. women’s soccer team goalie Hope Solo:

Not sharing this!!! Get your own! #zikaproof #RoadToRio

A photo posted by Hope Solo (@hopesolo) on

To be clear, accounts of this challenge or that attending an edition of the Olympic Games have been a constant for more than a century. So that’s hardly new.

Twelve years ago, things before the Athens Olympics were in such a state of unease — the first post-9/11 Summer Games — that the Los Angeles Times, where I was then a staff writer, ordered us all to undergo gas-mask and terrorism-response training before flying to Greece.

As if journalists were suddenly going to become first-responders.

Even by Athens standards, however, what was new this time was both the depth and the breadth of it all — the sustained ferocity of the pack and its collective narrative.

Many people don't like change and, by extension, anything new. These were the first-ever Games in South America. A therapist might say these Games represented a variation on the classic "other" -- a source of concern, if not fear, since the dawn of time.

As Oliver Holt of the British outlet Mail on Sunday (his reporting was thoroughly reasonable throughout) observed in a Twitter post:


Consider the 90-minute HBO “Real Sports” evisceration of the IOC.

Here was the opening sentence of an early July opinion piece in the New York Times:

“It’s official: The Olympic Games in Rio are an unnatural disaster.”

Here was, as the promo blurb for his new book about the Olympics called him, “the renowned sportswriter” David Goldblatt, on July 26 in the Guardian:

“In the face of such multiple disasters and injustices, history seems to offer Rio wriggle room. It can claim that Athens was more last minute and produced more white elephants, Sochi was as least as corrupt and wasteful, Beijing was more repressive, Seoul’s displacements were more widespread and viscous and Atlanta’s social cleansing more thorough. However, Rio is giving all of them a run for their money and adding its own unique injustices and shameful dissembling.”

Here was a history professor in the July 19 issue of Time magazine:

“The Rio Games will be a failure, no matter how successful they might be in terms of athletic accomplishment and spectator enjoyment, because our global sense of an international order has failed. It is a divided, distracted and even defeated international community that is slouching towards Rio.”

Do the Olympics deserve scrutiny? For sure. And for emphasis: journalistic responsibility and holding accountable those in positions of authority is wholly appropriate.

But — what’s also appropriate in the big picture is a more appropriate measure, please, of balance and perspective.

The New York Times' Chris Clarey, in a column published last Friday, summed up aptly:

"Rio deserved a more balanced, less hysterical prologue, just as it deserves a more balanced, less triumphal epilogue."

Is it realistic to expect an Olympic Games to solve every social problem in successive cities? Not in the slightest. The better question: why is that the question in the first instance?

A fair judgment on any Olympics takes 20 years. Look at Barcelona before 1992, and now. The place is totally transformed.

Athens has a ways to go before history can be in any way fair in rendering a verdict on those 2004 Games. Are there sports facilities that are just sitting now in the sun? For sure. At the same time, did the Games bring a new airport and new metro lines — and have they enhanced life, generally speaking?

Same in Rio. New transport lines. New waterfront park makeover. As the New York Times observed in a story published last Sunday, Rio "is altered if not reborn."

In the meantime, it's a real question why the ladies and gentlemen of the press, who are free with criticism when it's someone else,  don’t do the one thing they ask of the people they cover — that is, to be consistent.


How many stories were produced before the Sochi 2014 Games about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law? And after?

How many reports were published before the Beijing 2008 Games about China’s human rights record? And after?

The good news about Rio is not just that disaster was, in fact, averted. It’s not even that a whole bunch of people wrote “gee, I guess that was OK” stories upon their Rio departures.

It’s that Rio has confirmed for increasing numbers within the IOC the realization, after 30 years of the Games as catalyst for wholesale public-policy makeovers, that it really is in a different game. It’s not in the infrastructure business. It’s in the inspiration business.

The consequence: the IOC needs — not should, but needs — to go for the 2024 Games to a city where the sports venues, the transport, the overall logistic package already exist. Essentially, this means either Paris or Los Angeles. Rome and Budapest are also in the race. The IOC will pick next September.

The IOC is recalibrating.

Time for the press to do the same.

#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes


-- In advance of the publication in the coming days of highly technical planning details, it’s far-more-interesting logo-unveil time in the 2024 Summer Olympic bid game. Paris, for instance, came out a few days ago with a stylized Eiffel Tower. On Tuesday,  Los Angeles unveiled its logo and the tagline, “Follow the sun.” Reaction: let’s be honest here and admit that logos and slogans rarely play a huge role come voting time, with the exception perhaps of the incredibly on-point Pyeongchang 2018 tag, “New Horizons.”

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with swim star Janet Evans and others applauding for LA24 bid leader Casey Wasserman

Following the sun: the wow factor from the 30th floor, looking west

At issue in this 2024 campaign is nothing less the fundamental direction of the Olympic movement: whether the International Olympic Committee is prepared to take LA mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman up on what they said Tuesday to a fired-up crowd on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, the sun setting gloriously to the west. The mayor: “Imagination is critical because it leads to hope. Hope leads to dreams. Dreams lead to innovation. That is the story of our city.” Wasserman said a "sense of relentless reinvention and new beginnings” anchor “LA2024’s distinctive value proposition for the good of the Games and the Olympic movement,” a bid with 97 percent of the venues already in place or planned (canoe slalom still to be figured out).

Let’s be honest some more, because at some point there has to be plain talk about this campaign, and it ought to start now, even though the vote isn’t until 2017 and lots can, and will happen. Right now, Europe — pretty much all of it — is a big question mark. As former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “These are difficult times in Europe with the refugee crisis, economic weakness, security issues and the rise of populist movements.” There’s LA, and then there’s Paris, Rome and Budapest. This campaign will doubtlessly feature any number of references to Paris mounting a fourth bid. At the same time, it needs to be understood that the LA effort is not just an LA, or SoCal, thing; it is America’s third bid, after New York in 2005 for 2012, Chicago in 2009 for 2016.

Straight talk, continued: logic and common sense say the IOC can hardly run the risk of turning down the three biggest cities in the United States in succession. (Of course, it can do so, and an IOC election can typically prove volatile.) But if LA does not win for 2024, it would be exceptionally problematic — and that is putting it gently — for LA to come back for 2028, or to see any other American city step up. It takes millions of dollars to run a bid, and in the United States that money has to be privately raised. The money is here and now for LA24. Imagine a 2024 loss — and then Wasserman going back to all those he hit up for $1 million apiece and saying, looking at 2028, something like, oh, well, now the IOC is going to treat us fairly. Not going to happen. The time is now.

-- IOC president Thomas Bach was in LA earlier this month, making the rounds after prior visits to Paris, Rome and Budapest, the other cities in the 2024 race. Bach then went up to Silicon Valley for talks.

Reaction: so curious that the far more important purpose of Bach’s California trip, the excursion to Silicon Valley, drew  minimal press attention. He met with representatives of Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others. The IOC needs big-time help in reaching out to young people; it is focused in particular on the launch of the Olympic Channel. If you’re an IOC member, looking at that line-up in California, and there’s a California bid, doesn’t that too comport with logic and common sense?

IOC president Thomas Bach, center, at Google HQ // photo IOC

-- One more LA note. The U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon went down Saturday on a course that wound around downtown and the University of Southern California campus. Galen Rupp won on the men’s side. Many in the running press (there is such a thing) immediately pointed to the possibility of Rupp, silver medalist in the 10k in London in 2012, running both the 10k and the marathon in Rio.

Reaction: let’s wait to see what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to say in the coming months, if anything, about Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar. As Kara Goucher, the women’s fourth-place finisher, said after the race, "Justice is coming."

Kara Goucher near the finish of Saturday's U.S. marathon Trials // Getty Images

-- Speaking of the IOC’s purported youth outreach: the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer are on.

Reaction: did you notice? Did anyone — like, any teens or 20-somethings? The very best part about the YOG experiment is the Young Reporters program, which has produced a number of promising young stars. There’s also an argument that the Youth Games serve as a petri dish of sorts, allowing the IOC and, perhaps more important, the international sports federations to check out without real peril events such as skateboarding (Nanjing YOG, 2014) and, now in Lillehammer, parkour. Fine. But that’s not the point of YOG, expressed by former IOC president Jacques Rogge in launching it. It’s to connect meaningfully with young people. How’s that going?

-- Speaking of a way that actually works in reaching young people: kudos to organizers, and especially the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., for the Big Air event a few days ago at Boston's Fenway Park. It featured jumps and tricks off a 140-foot ramp set up on the field at the iconic baseball stadium.

Reaction: terrific idea, terrific execution. Great stuff, especially on TV.

Women's winner Julia Marino, 18, of Westport, Conn., during the Big Air event at Fenway Park // Getty Images

-- USA Swimming announces a contract extension, through the end of 2020, for executive director Chuck Wielgus.

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

Reaction: USA Swimming is one of a handful of well-run national governing bodies, and that is in significant measure due to Wielgus, who is a fundamentally decent human being. Anyone who knows USA Swimming knows Wielgus has wrestled for years now with cancer; he deserves widespread admiration and respect for the soft-spoken courage he has repeatedly shown in public in dealing with significant medical issues. Switching gears: the well-publicized challenges sparked by sexual abuse of young swimmers are not — repeat, not — Chuck Wielgus’ fault. Six years ago, in particular in regard to the comments he made on an ABC 20/20 investigation, was Wielgus at his best when he said he didn’t feel the need to apologize? No. Does an 18-year tenure deserve to be judged by one moment? No. And, now, USA Swimming is way ahead of the curve with its SafeSport program. If you want to criticize Wielgus, he deserves credit, too, for realizing, perhaps belatedly, what was wrong and helping to craft an industry-standard response. What should be Wielgus’ next goal: effecting fundamental change in the USA Swimming governance structure. Simply, the board of directors has too many people; it’s too big and unwieldy. Better for USA Swimming to do what it does best, and be a leader in the field, meaning slim down the board, before something happens — whatever that might be — to compel change under pressure.

-- Michael Phelps shows up in a swim brief and has fun with the Arizona State basketball-game "Curtain of Distraction."

Phelps doing his thing at the ASU basketball game // screenshot Pac-12 network

Reaction: you can just tell the guy is happy. Which means: watch out, world. Prediction, absent a huge surprise at the U.S. Trials: five Rio gold medals (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 100 fly, 800 relay, medley relay), and that is no knock on his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. As long as Lochte continues to pursue the 200 backstroke — at the Olympics, the 200 back final goes down before the 200 IM final on the same night — it’s a lot to ask, particularly of the legs, to go for gold in the 200 IM, too. As for the butterfly events, Chad le Clos of South Africa is a major talent. But in saying last summer after winning the 100 fly at the world championships (Phelps did not swim at the 2015 worlds) that Phelps could “keep quiet now,” le Clos awoke the tiger, and probably foolishly. Phelps has always done best when someone goes and trash talks — ask, in sequence, Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, of course, Milorad Cavic. The x factor for Phelps in Rio: the 400 free relay, one of the signature moments at the Beijing 2008 Games, when Jason Lezak turned in an otherworldly last leg to beat Alain Bernard and the French. For the past couple years, the French have been the world’s best in that event, and it’s not clear, at least yet, that even with Phelps the U.S. has what it takes.

-- The Zika virus takes over the Olympic news cycle, and U.S. soccer women’s national team goalie Hope Solo, among others, expresses concern about being part of it all in Rio.

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

-- Two former officials with the Russian anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym RUSADA, die within two weeks. Founding chairman Vyacheslav Sinev, who left RUSADA in 2010, died Feb. 3. Then this past Sunday, Feb. 14, the former RUSADA executive director Nikita Kamaev, died, just 52, of a “massive heart attack,” the agency said. Kamaev had resigned just two months ago, amid the doping scandal that sparked suspension of the Russian track and field program. That scandal is tied, in part, to a November report from a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that suggested state-sponsored doping. On Feb. 11, three days before Kamaev’s death, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office (predictably) rejected the WADA commission report, saying it held no concrete facts proving state-sponsored doping.

Reaction: it's like a Russian novel, full of twists and turns and who knows what. For that matter: who knows, really, what is believed to be real in Russia, and what is not? This prediction, though: like Hope Solo, the Russian track and field team will be in Rio. The IOC is super-big on a concept called “universality,” which means everyone in the entire world coming together. It’s actually a fundamental rationale for the Games. Given that, how possibly can officials — in particular track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, or more, the IOC — keep the Russian track and field team away? Also: who really wants to challenge Vladimir Putin, given the potential for many uncertain ramifications?

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies over the weekend at a ranch in Texas.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia // Getty Images

Chuck Blazer, once a senior soccer executive // Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the FIFA matter last December in Washington // Getty Images

Reaction: what might that have to do with sports? Turn to a case called Crawford vs. Washington, decided in 2004. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that in a criminal case, the defendant “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” What does that mean when someone makes a “testimonial” statement out-of-court but doesn’t (that is, can’t, for instance because of illness, or won’t, because of the assertion of privilege) testify in court itself? Writing for a unanimous 9-0 court, Scalia said the “testimonial” statement can’t be admitted as evidence — unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who made that statement.

So, again: sports? The U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into corruption at FIFA centers on Chuck Blazer, the American who was formerly a high-ranking soccer-world executive. Blazer reportedly has been ill for years with colon cancer. What if he dies before any trial? Would anything he had to say be admissible? For that matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has already been prominently mentioned as a potential Scalia replacement. Would the Justice Department be so interested in aggressively pursuing soccer stuff if someone else took over?

Free Michael Phelps

This space believes in making things simple and easy. So here it is: Michael Phelps should swim at the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia. USA Swimming suspended Phelps for six months in the aftermath of his drunk-driving incident in Maryland last September. That suspension has run, and he will open his 2015 season by swimming this week at a meet in Mesa, Arizona. In addition to that suspension, Phelps and USA Swimming agreed — and “agreed” is putting a spin on it — that he would not be on the U.S. team in Kazan. Now the time has come to fix that.

For every reason you can come up with to keep Phelps off the Kazan team, there are better reasons to send him.

First and foremost, there is this:

The American story is, and forever will be, one of redemption. This is who we are. This is the classic, everlasting story of our country.

In the United States of America, we get not only a second chance, but a third, a fourth, a fifth and more.

If anyone has earned that chance, it’s Michael Phelps.

Phelps is one of the great sports heroes of our time, an imperfect human being — we all are — who has won 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold, inspiring literally millions of boys and girls and grown-ups, too.

About this there can be no debate.

Our funny face pic yesterday at #theboysandgirlsclub What a blast!

A photo posted by Michael Phelps (@m_phelps00) on

Disclaimer: I co-wrote Phelps’ 2008 best-selling book. In writing this column, I have not shared even one word with him.

To recap how we got here, and why there must be reconsideration — not just for Phelps but for USA Swimming and even the U.S. Olympic Committee — that Phelps go to Russia:

On Sept. 30, 2014, Phelps was stopped by Maryland police going 84 in a 45 mph zone. His blood-alcohol level registered 0.14.

This was Phelps’ second DUI offense in 10 years.

For legal purposes, the first DUI, when Phelps was a teenager, was completely immaterial during the second case. For the record, he did 18 months probation. USA Swimming took no action.

In 2009, a few months after going 8-for-8 at the Beijing Games, Phelps, then 23, was photographed with his face in a bong. The picture created a major international stir. USA Swimming suspended him for three months.

Then came the arrest last September. Phelps was arrested amid the media frenzy ignited by the cases involving the NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and, to a lesser extent, the soccer star Hope Solo, each enveloped in a domestic violence incident.

To be clear, is Phelps super-fortunate no one got hurt? Or worse? Yes, a thousand times over.

Now: was Phelps involved in a domestic violence case? No.

Was it thus apples to apples? No.

Was it his incredibly poor judgment to get behind the wheel of a car, impaired, when the harsh media spotlight had turned on high-profile athletes? Yes.

Was there thus pressure on USA Swimming and the USOC, especially given the intensity of the focus on the Rice and Peterson matters, in particular, to bring the hammer down on Phelps? Absolutely.

Was Phelps in any sort of position, given that intensity, to argue at the time — even though he and everyone else involved knew that the best thing for him was to go to treatment, which was where he was, in fact, headed — about any of the elements of the six-month plus Kazan deal? Hardly.

Was there, as this space pointed out at the time, a rush to judgment? You bet.

When can it be said that a rush to judgment ever proves positive?

Now that time has run:

Rice and the Baltimore Ravens have settled his grievance for $1.588 million, and Rice is eligible to play again in the NFL.

Peterson is eligible for reinstatement on Wednesday.

The domestic violence charges against Solo were dismissed in January. A few days later, she was back in the news in connection with a drunken driving incident involving her husband, ex-NFL player Jerramy Stevens, that led US Soccer to suspend her for 30 days.

At the Algarve Cup in Portugal in March, a key tune-up for this summer’s women’s World Cup, who was that making the incredible late-game save to preserve her 81st international shutout in leading the United States over France, 2-0, for the title? For sure — Solo.

To be clear, one of the reasons to see Phelps swim in Kazan is what would likely happen in the pool. Reports from swim insiders say Phelps is hugely motivated — he is said to be practicing the way he did in 2007 and 2008 — and there is perhaps no sight in sports like Phelps roaring down the pool in the back half of his races.

There is also this: the U.S. team needs Phelps if it has any hopes of winning the 400 freestyle relay the way it did in Beijing in 2008. That’s the race he watched — from the stands — with dismay at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona. You only get so many chances to practice this relay before Rio in 2016.

Beyond that, there is this:

In a weird way, the September DUI arrest may have been the best thing that ever happened to Phelps. It got him to treatment. It forced him to look, and hard, at who he is and what he is doing.

In the months since leaving treatment, he has gotten engaged. He has been a model citizen. Everyone who has been in contact with him has remarked about how he has grown up.

In London, and that was before all this, Phelps was a veteran team leader at the 2012 Games. Wouldn’t you want Phelps 2.0, and this kind of hard-won life experience, on your team in Kazan?

Having reviewed the USA Swimming selection criteria, it is abundantly plain that it would indeed be a complex process — a number of dominoes would need to fall in just the right way — to get Phelps on the Kazan team. But, as always, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Now for some real-life politics, because there are plenty of intersecting currents to factor into the dynamic as well:

USA Swimming and FINA, the international governing body for swimming, are currently not — shall we say — on the best of terms. There are a variety of reasons why, but for this conversation it’s enough to leave it at this: things are business-like.

And to not have Phelps in Russia? FINA is not happy to begin with. Now you throw in the prospect that the best American swimmer ever would not be at its marquee event?

Everyone knows, meanwhile, that the USOC wants to put forward a Summer Games bid for 2024.

Not everyone knows, however, that John Leonard, who is an influential U.S. swim coach, has for months now been leading a largely behind-the-scenes campaign aimed at reforming FINA.

FINA has opted not to respond in public to the Leonard campaign.

The point of bringing up Leonard’s campaign here is not to debate its merits. It’s to put it in a different context.

The president of FINA, Julio Cesar Maglione of Uruguay, was just this past weekend elected interim president of the Pan-American Sports Organization.

Maglione is a key and dependable ally of International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach’s.

Maglione is 79. Elected FINA president in 2009, he was re-elected in 2013. Now there is serious talk that he wants a third term; to do so would require a rules change.

Leonard’s campaign is wondering, among other things, how this can be.

The answer: it’s all part of a complex geopolitical strategy involving interests beyond Maglione with close ties to the IOC president. This strategy might take all of a presumed third Maglione third term to play out. Or just part of it. In that scenario, which leadership at USA Swimming understands full well already, U.S. influence at FINA's top levels might well be further considerably diminished.

This is no small matter. For revenue purposes, swimming is now what's called a Tier "A" sport in the Olympic movement, along with gymnastics and track and field -- in large measure because of the import of Phelps.

Leonard is doing what he justifiably feels is in the right.

In the meantime, the Leonard campaign is not doing a 2024 U.S. Olympic bid any favors — see above, FINA not happy with USA Swimming to begin with.

Moving on:

Understand always that Vladimir Putin made the first call to Bach when Bach was elected IOC president. These Kazan swim championships are a key element in Putin’s strategy to make Russia a world sports destination — along with Sochi 2014 and soccer’s 2018 World Cup.

To reiterate: to not have the biggest star in swimming at the biggest show in swimming? How in the world, come voting time for the 2024 bid, is that going to help the United States? Don’t fool yourselves. Russia is a big deal in the Olympic sphere and people have long memories when it comes time to vote.

Moving on once more:

Katie Ledecky, Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte are awesome swimmers. But without Phelps, who in the United States is likely to watch a swim world championships — from Kazan or anywhere — on television?

Answer: virtually no one.

Need evidence? Lochte is, truly, a great guy. But there's a reason his reality-TV show was quickly canceled.

If Phelps doesn’t swim in Kazan, it’s a simple matter to look at the calendar and see he would have to swim instead at the U.S. nationals in San Antonio. They’re Aug. 6-10. The swim schedule in Kazan runs Aug. 2-9. Why the two events run simultaneously is a long, and separate, story.

A San Antonio nationals would feature Phelps, Allison Schmitt, Natalie Coughlin and dozens of others — apologies — recognizable mostly to their coaches and parents.

Phelps has for more than a dozen years now said his goal is to grow the sport of swimming. How would limiting him to San Antonio accomplish any of that?

That’s not just a rhetorical question.

It’s way better all around for leadership at USA Swimming to take a deep breath, work out the complexities of the selection process, acknowledge the obvious and get the guy who virtually by himself since 2000 has elevated swimming into the top tier in the Olympic scene back where he belongs.

With the best in the world.

The Phelps suspension: why the rush to judgment?


Cross-country ski champion Petter Northug was sentenced last Thursday in court in Norway to 50 days behind bars after being convicted of drunk driving. Which brings us to Michael Phelps, the 24/7 media spin cycle we live in and the rush to judgment that led to the significant suspension USA Swimming levied against Phelps for his recent DUI arrest in Baltimore. What was to be gained by USA Swimming rushing to this judgment? More — what was lost by waiting?

Clearly, USA Swimming did what it felt like it needed to do. In some quarters, it is getting kudos for taking decisive action. But was it appropriate — or, better, right?

Norway's Petter Northug at the Sochi Games // photo Getty Images

At issue are several thoroughly basic principles.

One, the media is not running anything. We can’t even run ourselves. Who cares if we are shouting? Or tweeting? Seriously. This is what is called a diversity of opinion. The counterpoint to that is called calm leadership.

Two, bad facts make for bad law. This is elemental. Phelps’ case is not one on which to make, or rest, broad-based policy.

Three, as everyone who has read Orwell knows, all the animals on the farm are not equal. Or are they? Which is it going to be?

To recap:

Phelps, 29, is charged with DUI, excessive speed and crossing double lane lines. Police stopped him outside the Fort McHenry tunnel at 1:40 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 30, saying he was going 84 in a 45 zone; he had spent the hours before at the Horseshoe Casino. Police say his blood alcohol level was 0.14; the state’s legal limit is 0.08. Phelps is due to appear in court on Nov. 19.

The arrest is Phelps’ second for drunk driving. He pleaded guilty to driving while impaired in 2004.

USA Swimming did not suspend him after the 2004 case.

Five years ago, British tabloids published a photo of Phelps with his face in a bong.

USA Swimming suspended him in 2009 for three months.

For those unfamiliar with cross-country skiing, Northug won four medals, two gold, at the Vancouver 2010 Games. When you include medals won at world championships, he is right up there with the legendary Bjorn Daehlie.

Northug, 28, crashed his Audi while driving the first week of May. His blood alcohol level was more than eight times the Norwegian legal limit, according to Reuters. Norway’s limit is 0.02. A friend who was in the car was slightly hurt. Northug was not injured.

Northug was also fined $30,000 and banned from driving for life; Associated Press said that “normally means a minimum of five years.”

The accident and aftermath have been front-page news for months in winter sports-crazed Norway. Northug said, according to reports, that the episode would “follow me throughout my whole life.”

Here is the kicker:

The Norwegian Ski Assn., according to AP, said it would not punish Northug because his accident “had nothing to do with competition or training.”

The association president, Erik Roeste, told the Norwegian news agency NTB, “It’s not in sports regulations to punish him from our side in any way.”

So how did USA Swimming come to sanction Phelps?

Through Section 304.3.19 of its rule book.

It allows sanctions for “any other material and intentional act, conduct or omission not provided for above, which is detrimental to the image or reputation of USA Swimming, a LSC (local swimming committee) or the sport of swimming.”

Six days after Phelps’ arrest, USA Swimming announced it had suspended him for six months and he had withdrawn, by mutual agreement with the federation, from the U.S. team for the 2015 world championships in Kazan Russia. He also agreed to forfeit a $1,750 USA Swimming stipend for six months.

Phelps’ arrest came amid the controversies that have enveloped the NFL and stirred headlines since the video surfaced — on Sept. 8 — of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator. You can be sure that played a part in the decision-making at USA Swimming.

The hammer came the day after Phelps announced he was headed to a six-week, in-patient treatment program.

Even if you decide that this arrest warrants sanction — that’s an entire column in and of itself — what was the goal here?

To penalize Phelps? Deter him or others? Rehabilitate him? Make sure he doesn’t drive drunk again? Send a message — to him, others on the national team or other swimmers in clubs across the United States?

Why was it so important to suspend Phelps when not even a week had passed?

Did acting so quickly make it more — or less — likely to achieve the objective? Which, again, was what?

Isn’t it more likely that we were all left with one obvious reality? That USA Swimming acted get itself out of the spotlight -- or, more precisely, to cover its backside amid media pressure?

So, now what?

Did anyone watch Ryan Lochte’s reality TV show? In the realm of possibility: were there off-camera escapades that might now bring embarrassment to USA Swimming? Do you think TMZ is asleep at that switch? Really?

Further, are we all willing to believe there isn’t even one coach affiliated with USA Swimming, or one athlete anywhere in the United States with a DUI that has yet to come to light? Truly? How soon before one such case emerges? Would any such case bring embarrassment to the federation? How much embarrassment?

You see how problematic this is?

What about this: reasonable people can agree to disagree about whether USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus should or should not have drawn so much criticism earlier this year when he was nominated for the International Swimming Hall of Fame amid concern the federation should have done more to prevent sexual abuse by coaches.

In June, Wielgus formally apologized — four years after saying on national TV that he had nothing to apologize for.

Phelps apologized, too, and in short order after arrest.

These two scenarios admittedly are in many ways apples and oranges. However, the question is nonetheless worth posing, especially if you're asking forthright questions: big-picture, which of the two holds the greater potential to embarrass USA Swimming -- Phelps' situation, or Wielgus'?

The federation, it must be acknowledged, has taken undeniably constructive steps in reordering its safe sport policies. At the same time, right or not, fair or not, Wielgus found himself this summer in an uncomfortable spot.

So why is Phelps getting six months plus the Worlds?

The problem is there is no spelled-out policy here. A catch-all is not good enough.

Another problem: there is inconsistency in the broader U.S. Olympic sphere.


Rule 4 of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn.’s code says: “USSA members shall maintain high standards of moral and ethical conduct, which includes self-control and responsible behavior, consideration for the physical and emotional well-being of others, and courtesy and good manners.”

In 2010, when then-USSA chief Bill Marolt was arrested for DUI — he took responsibility and apologized, just like Phelps — was he suspended? Hardly.

More current: Hope Solo, U.S. Soccer’s goaltender, is facing two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence linked to a June incident at Solo’s sister’s home in Kirkland, Washington.

In a September 23 Facebook post, Solo declared: “… I continue to maintain my innocence against these charges. And, once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated.”

Not only has U.S. Soccer not suspended Solo, she has continued to play and, indeed, has once been honored with the captain’s armband.

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun last month told USA Today, “Abuse in all forms is unacceptable. The allegations involving Ms. Solo are disturbing and are inconsistent with our expectations of Olympians. We have had discussions with U.S. Soccer and fully expect them to take action if it is determined that the allegations are true.”

Three things:

The reason U.S. Soccer hasn’t moved is because you can bet there would be a counter-move rooted in the 1978 Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act.

Solo’s case is yet to be decided in the courts. Yet USA Swimming took action even though Phelps’ matter is only at the arrest stage. He, just like Solo, is due the presumption of innocence.

Finally, this suspension was pushed through when Phelps was on his way to treatment. The skeptic might say Phelps is going to treatment in a bid to prove to the courts that he’s being proactive. Or maybe he is, genuinely, recognizing that, at 29, he needs help, and now is the time to get it.

The difference between the Solo and Phelps cases is that Phelps accepted the suspension. Query: on his way to six weeks away, did he really have any choice? Was he really going to fight that fight? Right then and there?

Now that it’s all said and done, maybe everyone ought to take a deep breath.


At the least, USA Swimming has gone one step too far with Phelps.

On the one hand, six months is arguably thoroughly arbitrary. For legal purposes, the first DUI is absolutely, totally irrelevant. (To show you further how arbitrary: what if Phelps were photographed now with his face in a bong pipe in Colorado, where -- along with Washington state -- pot is legal? Colorado, of all places, home of USA Swimming and the USOC. Things evolve.)

On the other, you can make a pretty strong argument for six months. Let’s be plain: there’s no excusing drunk driving and Phelps is profoundly lucky no one got hurt, or worse. Phelps’ blood-alcohol level was, again, 0.14, and that was not in the field — that was after he had been taken to the police station. He likely had to have been doing some serious drinking. A 200-pound male, about what Phelps weighs, would had to have had 12 drinks to blow a 0.152 after four hours of drinking, according to this chart.

Assuming there’s no wiggle room with the six months, the crux of what really ought to be at issue is the Worlds. Why beat Phelps up over the Worlds? It’s not at all clear that, after six weeks away from the pool, he would even be ready. But it’s just as easy to make the argument that he would be an asset post-treatment to the American team as not — after all, he was a veteran leader in London two years ago, and has increasingly related to younger swimmers.

Here’s one proposal:

After Phelps is done with his six-week, in-patient treatment program, and his court date is through, assuming a conviction but no custody time, he might consider moving to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. He could eat, sleep, train and focus on nothing but himself and swimming — under the watch of USA Swimming and the USOC and, perhaps most important, the longtime "mom" at the training center, an old friend, Sherry Von Riesen.

If he proved himself a model citizen, then the ban on the Worlds could be rescinded.

Phelps has had only one coach, Bob Bowman. Bowman is in Baltimore. There would have to be some workarounds. Bowman could perhaps come to Colorado every couple weeks. There could be Skype sessions.

All this — Phelps as resident at the USOC training center, with no driving privileges for some period of time — could even be part of a court-ordered probationary term. Creative minds, you know, and all that.

Of course, this all assumes Phelps wants to keep swimming competitively. That is a big if. Post-treatment, who knows?


USA Swimming should strongly consider re-framing its policy for what is “detrimental to the image or reputation” of the federation. That is way, way, way too vague, and likely susceptible to serious legal challenge.

The other NGBs should take a look at what's going down here, too.

Arbitrary policy-making done in a rush is not constructive strategy. It may get you out of a jam. Or make it feel like you’re out. But not really. Life is way too complex. There’s always another turn, and it’s always unexpected.


Enough with trial by court of public opinion


Enough already with trial by court of public opinion. All around. We have courts — real courts, of law — to dispense justice. That’s what they’re for. You can like Hope Solo, or not. But her case is not like that involving Ray Rice. The notion that the two matters are the same, or ought to be treated the same, or that the U.S. Olympic Committee ought to do something in the Solo case, and do it now, because of some notion of equality or of leveling the playing field in sports thoroughly and completely misses the point.

It also fundamentally ignores reality.

The USOC -- which convenes this week in Chicago for its annual assembly -- can’t just whomp around like an 800-pound gorilla. There are laws that define what it can, and can’t, do.

Goalie Hope Solo before last week's US-Mexico match // photo Getty Images

Which is exactly the point that seems to be lost in all the shouting over the past couple days and weeks amid the Rice matter and, more recently, as it has dawned anew on columnists — including some of the leading voices in the United States — as well as on the Twitter mob that Solo is herself facing domestic violence charges.

It’s simple.

The United States is a nation rooted, fundamentally, in the law. We can agree, or disagree, about whether the law is applied appropriately in a particular case or not — but, big picture, that is the essence of the thing.

To continue, the law is not a one-size-fits-all. In each case, the idea is that the law is applied to specific facts. And, in each case, the accused — this is crucial — is afforded due process.

Rice, in a February altercation, assaulted his wife-to-be, Janay, at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The next month, a grand jury indicted him on felony charges of aggravated assault. At the risk of being obvious, a felony is punishable by a year or more in custody — which means state prison. We now know, thanks to TMZ, that Rice punched his fiancee in a casino elevator, knocking her unconscious.

In May, prosecutors agreed to allow Rice to enter into a pretrial diversion program, which will allow him to avoid prosecution, assuming he successfully completes the program. Typically, it takes about a year.

Solo, meanwhile, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of misdemeanor domestic violence stemming from a June incident at Solo’s sister’s home in Kirkland, Washington.

Just to pause for a second.

A misdemeanor involves a crime punishable by a year or less behind bars — that is, in county jail.

So, just to start, there’s a huge difference.


According to documents obtained by the Seattle Times, Solo charged her 17-year-old nephew, punched him in the face and tackled him. When the boy’s mother tried to intervene, Solo attacked her, too.

Police said in an affidavit that when they arrived on the scene, the boy’s T-shirt was torn and he had scratch marks on his arms and a bleeding cut on his ear.

The Seattle Times account says this, too:

"When the teen’s mother tried to intervene, Solo attacked her as well, the document says. The teen tried to pull Solo off his mother and then broke a wooden broom over her head, the document says."

The "her" in that sentence is Hope Solo. So she got a broom broken over her head, at least according to that account. Solo's attorney says she is the victim in the case, according to the newspaper.

Now there may be all kinds of reasons for U.S. Soccer to assess Hope Solo’s conduct, in this instance and over the years. But to say that the federation ought to be spurred to action now because Ray Rice beat up his fiancee in an elevator?

Ladies and gentlemen, Hope Solo has pleaded not guilty. She is due the presumption of innocence.

Indeed, on Tuesday evening, on her Facebook page, Solo had this to say: "... while I understand that the public desires more information regarding the allegations against me, I continue to maintain my innocence against these charges. And, once all the facts come to light and the legal process is concluded, I am confident that I will be fully exonerated."

What if, at trial, it turns out there are extenuating circumstances? Unreliable witnesses? Flimsy evidence? What about the broom? When in all of it did that take place, and what might -- or might not -- a jury think about that?

The Seattle Times report says the boy alleges Solo had been drinking. It also says the 17-year-old "got an old gun that did not work" and pointed it at Solo to try to get her to stop. Police, according to the newspaper account, determined it was a broken BB gun.

What if a jury of her peers finds Solo not guilty of the charges against her? What then? If U.S. Soccer moves decisively now, and she is found not guilty -- should she be punished all these months for what would turn out to be no sound legal reason?

“Abuse in all forms is unacceptable,” the chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun, wrote USA Today in an email earlier this week.

“The allegations involving Ms. Solo are disturbing and are inconsistent with our expectations of Olympians. We have had discussions with U.S. Soccer and fully expect them to take action if it is determined that the allegations are true.”

For sure.

But until then, the USOC is not the NFL, and U.S. Soccer is not the Baltimore Ravens. That’s not how the real world works.

The USOC is not in the position of dictating to a national governing body how to run its affairs. Indeed, the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act prevents that very thing.

Here’s the deal:

Outrage is one thing. Justice is another. Hope Solo is due her day in court. It’s coming in November. Until then, a little calm, please, and a lot more reasonableness all around. It’s good for everyone.


The best U.S. Summer Olympic team ever

After the Jamaican 4x100 relay team, anchored by Usain Bolt, had lowered the world record to 36.84 seconds in the final event on the track at the London 2012 Olympics, there was one last news conference under the stadium, at which Bolt and the others on the winning team held court. During the meet, of course, Bolt had repeatedly shown off his "To Di World" pose. Yohan Blake, his training partner and the world's second-best sprinter, had similarly offered up for the television cameras interpretations of his nickname "The Beast," posing with his "claws."

Now, at this last news conference, Blake shared these thoughts about the Jamaican sprint team: "We're not normal. To run 36 [seconds] is not normal. We're flying. People call us robots. I said, 'No, we're from space. We drop from the sky like Mr. Bean. Because when he started he dropped out of the sky.' It's just the fun stuff, you know, that we always do. I'm from Mars because I'm not normal. I'm 'The Beast.' "

To which Bolt said, "Yohan is crazy. If he keeps talking like that, someone is going to put him in a straight jacket one day."

There are two lessons here.

One: Usain and Yohan can do and say what they like, and for most it's all in good fun. Track and field needs a lot more fun, frankly.

Two: If Usain and Yohan were Americans, and they did this kind of stuff, there likely would be hell to pay. Double standards are unfair, but that's life.

It's always going to be different for Americans. It just is.

Just in case there is any doubt that we in the United States are viewed differently than everyone else:

During the women's indoor volleyball gold-medal match in London between the U.S. and Brazil, there were unceasing boos from many in the Brazilian section in the crowd virtually every time the Americans served.

During a Games that was memorable for so many fine reasons, arguably a best-ever Summer Olympics for a multitude of logistical and legacy reasons, this was a jarring note that served -- again -- as a reminder of the United States of America's unique station in our world.

And perhaps -- only perhaps -- of what awaits the U.S. team at the next Summer Games, four years from now in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

There were no slip-ups from the 2012 U.S. team -- at least none that came to light publicly.

That sentence is not in there as if there's something hidden. That's not the case. To reiterate: no slip-ups that we know of. For now, credit to all involved.

The caveat, and this is only cautionary journalism rooted in years of experience: let's simply see if, as time unfolds, we learn of unfortunate incidents like smuggled guests into the athletes' village in 2008 in Beijing, courtesy of soccer star Hope Solo's disclosure a few weeks back to ESPN The Magazine.

In our world, there simply can't be any slip-ups.

Even if it's serious, like guests in the village in 2008, or silly nonsense, like talk about being from Mars, American athletes have to conduct themselves differently on the Olympic stage.

That's reality when you are the world's lone super-power; when you have an army on the ground in Afghanistan; when sports and politics shouldn't mix but inevitably do, and everyone needs to remember that always, at all times and in all circumstances.

Twelve years ago in Sydney, the American 4x100 men's relay team preened and clowned its way through their victory lap on the track and even afterward. My former boss, Bill Dwyre, then the sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, put it so succinctly and appropriately, calling it the "bad-taste-in-the-mouth gold medal."

A huge difference with Bolt and Blake, by the way: they were magnificently respectful during the playing of not only their national anthem but others as well. Bolt stopped dead during an interview session in what is called the "mixed zone" -- where reporters mix with athletes -- and came to abrupt attention while the American anthem was played. When the music stopped, he resumed the interview.

The USOC has over the past few Olympic cycles put into place what it calls an "Ambassador" program that aims to relay the distinct challenges of being an American athlete at the Games. Most if not all U.S. Olympic athletes go through the program before a Games.

At the same time, make no mistake, the USOC's mission is to win medals.

The U.S. team left London atop the medals count, gold and overall, with 46 and 104. It won the overall medals count in Vancouver in 2010, with 37. It is very, very likely to challenge for -- if not win outright -- the medals count in Sochi in 2014, now just a mere year and a half away, because of an avalanche of new action sports -- slope style and halfpipe events, in particular -- that figure to play to U.S. strengths.

At the U.S. Olympic Committee's wrap-up news conference in London, board chair Larry Probst said, "We like to come in first. There's nothing wrong with that," adding a moment later, "I like to hear 'The Star-Spangled Banner. A lot.' "

Probst has every right to make such comments. They're the farthest thing from a declaration of American superiority or, worse, obnoxiousness. In Beijing in 2008, the Chinese won more gold medals than the Americans; the Americans won more medals overall.

In London, again, the Americans topped both tables. To put this in its proper perspective: the USOC's annual budget runs to about $135 million, about what Ohio State spends annually on its athletic department. All USOC revenue has to be raised from corporate and other private donations. Compare: every other national Olympic committee in the world is an arm of its federal government. For the USOC -- and the national governing bodies that feed into the USOC -- to come out on top is, in a word, amazing.

More amazing, and yet not, is that, as USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun put it in at that same wrap-up news conference in London, U.S. athletes "comported themselves in a way that made America proud." He said, "We wanted to be good guests while we were in Britain," and they were.

Probst said, too, "When we leave London, do people perceive our athletes as good ambassadors for the United States? I think the answer is a resounding yes. We are really proud of them."

This week, most of America's Summer Games athletes will be settling back into their lives, back in their towns, home with their families and friends. The numbers say most did not win a medal. That's a fact of Olympic life, too. No matter. It's like Probst and Blackmun said -- this, if you count medals and then the measure that matters in the way people everywhere else perceive us as Americans, was the most successful U.S. Summer Olympic team ever, and from New York to California the people of the United States have every right to be "really proud of them."

Olympic security is no joke

LONDON -- Upon arrival in the Olympic city, it rained. No surprise. The newspapers were full of stories about security concerns relating to the Summer Games, which open on July 27. Also no surprise. Security is issue No. 1 at the Games. It has to be, and has been ever since Munich and 1972, when Palestinian terrorists kidnapped and then murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. Five of the terrorists also died amid the 1972 attack; so did a German policeman.

The headlines here are very real, and urgent.

At the same time, it may well be the case that an item mostly making the rounds of celebrity shows and snarky websites back in the United States reveals the real vulnerability of Olympic security.

As U.S. women's soccer goaltender Hope Solo underscores in her recent comments to ESPN The Magazine about the avowed sex-fest at the Olympic Village in Beijing in 2008, it's who gets in purportedly off-limits Games space, and how, that is most worrisome. She alleges in part -- and this is arguably the dullest part of what she said -- that she "may have" snuck a "celebrity" into the village and back out without getting caught.

Without the appropriate Olympic credential, the rule regarding the Village in particular is simple: you don't get to go there. At the same time, the process of who might get in and out can be endlessly susceptible to human judgment. That means there's the potential for mistake. When it comes to security, any mistake can be a huge mistake.

That's the lesson of 1972. And that is the "never again" that must, really, never be again.

First, the British headlines.

With two weeks to go, it developed that the company -- it's called G4S -- charged with recruiting some 10,400 personal to protect stadiums and other sites had pretty much botched the job. The British military was being called in, 3,500 troops on top of the 7,500 already detailed to some 100 venues.

The British minister in charge of the Olympics, Jeremy Hunt, went on a Sunday talk show to say that G4S boss Nick Buckles had apologized and the company would be paying 30 million pounds, or about $46 million, for the last-minute military deployment as well as a penalty of up to 20 million pounds, or another $31 million, for not living up to its part of the deal. Some number of the soldiers have just come back from Afghanistan.

Speaking Sunday on the BBC Radio 5 Live Sportsweek program, Sebastian Coe, the head of the London 2012 organizing committee, said, "We have two weeks to get this right and we will get this right," adding he was "confident" these would be "safe and secure Games."

It is a fact of Olympic life, and especially post-9/11, that security involves a massive show of force. There will be missiles on rooftops here. That's part of what the thousands of soldiers are about as well.

It's at the point of person-to-person contact, though, that the system -- any system -- is most susceptible.

This is where Solo's remarks bear special scrutiny. In its entirety, here is the relevant passage from ESPN The Magazine:

"After the Beijing Games, the women went, well, Hollywood. Solo recounts the story: 'I probably shouldn't tell you this, but we met a bunch of celebrities. Vince Vaughn partied with us. Steve Byrne, the comedian. And at some point we decided to take the party back to the village, so we started talking to the security guards, showed off our gold medals, got their attention and snuck our group through without credentials -- which is absolutely unheard of.' And, she adds, 'I may have snuck a celebrity back to my room without anybody knowing, and snuck him back out. But that's my Olympic secret.' The best part, according to Solo? 'When we were done partying, we got out of our nice dresses, got back into our stadium coats and, at 7 a.m. with no sleep, went on the Today show drunk. Needless to say, we looked like hell.' "

The U.S. Olympic Committee, asked for a response to her comments, declined.

At least two possibilities come to mind when assessing what she had to say:

One, Solo made her comments as part of an elaborate double game, with all relevant security agencies on board ahead of time so that they knew they were plugging an obvious hole.

If that seems implausible, two:

What she, and some unnamed number of others on the U.S. soccer team, did in 2008 arguably goes well beyond the self-indulgent. It raises serious questions about judgment and accountability, and the privilege of wearing a Team USA uniform.

To be clear, there's no argument here that sex is bad, or that having sex in the Village is bad. Many other athletes were quoted in the story about that. Solo also said in the piece, "There's a lot of sex going on." And: "… I've seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty."

Don't care about any of that other than -- be safe.

Solo, meanwhile, is supposed to be a sponsor's 2012 dream, featured on magazine covers, a recent contestant on "Dancing with the Stars," her agent, Richard Motzkin, telling the Los Angeles Times in April, "Outside of Michael Phelps, I think she'll be the highest-profile U.S. athlete heading into the London Olympics. By nature that makes her sort of the highest-profile female U.S. athlete in any sport."

With that profile comes responsibility. Little girls -- and boys -- want to be like their Olympic heroes.

Drunk on the Today show? Really?

Last week, Solo was hit with a public warning by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency after she tested positive for a banned substance in a urine test. She said it was for a prescription medicine used for pre-menstrual purposes and did not know it contained a diuretic; she said it was an honest mistake.

And now this.

It's not clear from the remarks to ESPN whether, for instance, Vince Vaughn was among those who was snuck into the Beijing Village. If that was the case, maybe it makes for a funny story that Vince Vaughn -- Vince Vaughn?! -- got to party in the Village.

But what if next time it's someone with malevolent intent who gets snuck into the Village? What then?

How exactly was a security guard on the ground in Beijing supposed to tell the difference? Whoever was in on that party got in after the women on the U.S. soccer team flashed their medals. What, like this was a rope line in Hollywood?

In 1972, security was lax to begin with. But the terrorists got in because they dressed up like athletes and real athletes helped them get over a chain-link fence near Gate 25A to the Munich Village.

In the movies, Vince Vaughn can be funny. Olympic security is not funny, and it's not a game.

If the pictures of the murdered Israelis, which I have seen, are too graphic; if the idea of talking to the survivors of those killed, like Ankie Spitzer, which I have done, seems too personal; then I have an idea for Hope Solo, and as many others on the U.S. women's soccer team who also need to understand.

They should sit in front of a television and watch some of the footage from 1972, and especially the part where Jim McKay reports the dreadful news. It might spark a better appreciation of what's genuinely at stake:

"We've just gotten the final word. When I was a kid, my father used to say our greatest hopes and worst fears are seldom realized. Our worst fears have been realized tonight.

"They have now said that there were 11 hostages. Two were killed in their rooms this morning -- excuse me, yesterday morning. Nine were killed at the airport tonight.

"They're all gone."