Ryan Lochte’s career-killing 10-month suspension is as dumb as the incident that caused it

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A story that started with reckless stupidity will end with more of the same.

TMZ was first to report Ryan Lochte will be suspended 10 months and for next year’s world championships for his actions in Brazil, which started with drunken antics at a gas station and continued with a lie that turned into a worldwide controversy. Lochte’s three U.S swimming teammates who were with him that fateful Saturday night — Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and James Feigen — will also be suspended, according to USA Today’s Christine Brennan. The severity of their punishments isn’t expected to match Lochte’s.

Ryan Lochte had to be suspended, mainly for appearances. He lied. He lied again. He got caught. But to essentially ban him for the next three years is far too great a punishment for what turned out to be a night of partying and a halfway-true lie.

Perception was at the heart of the Olympic outrage over Lochte’s claim that he and three U.S. swimming teammates were run off the road and robbed at gunpoint. The stereotypical "ugly American" had besmirched the host city, playing into Brazil’s own negative stereotypes about random crime. That perception is why Lochte had the book thrown at him. He deserved a strongly worded statement and a three- or four-month expulsion. But this — a suspension that essentially keeps Lochte out of major international swimming until the 2019 world championships, when he’ll be 35 — is a career killer. Intentionally or not, Lochte received swimming’s death penalty.

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The harshness is difficult to wrap your head around. People forgot about Ryan Lochte and the controversy that dominated the second week of the Games. We’d moved on. It’s time for football. The Olympians came out of the shadows for their two weeks and then went back in until Tokyo, in 1,418 days. The story died the instant the Olympic flame was snuffed and immediately felt overblown. Lochte’s big "apology" interview with Matt Lauer aired the final Saturday of the Olympics. By the time NBC aired the final parts on that Monday’s edition of "Today," just 36 hours later, it was like watching an exclusive interview with Gary Condit. There was no interest anymore. The story had shorter legs than Simone Biles.

U.S. swimming could, and should, have realized this. In the end, the only person who came out of the incident looking bad was Lochte. His beachfront interview with Billy Bush — the one where he mimicked cocking a gun with his fingers — was to be the lasting legacy of the overblown scandal. Now it’s the suspension for, what, lying? Slandering? Partying? Abandoning his teammates? A combination of everything?

What U.S. swimming seemed not to understand is that the general opinion of Rio and its Olympics weren’t going to be changed no matter the veracity of Lochte’s tale. Rio did what many considered unthinkable — it pulled off the Olympics. None of the feared disasters struck. Poor ticket sales would be the worst memory from the Games.

That was even true after there was some violent crime in Rio — actual crime, not the tale imagined in the mind of a 32-year-old who couldn’t handle his booze. While the controversy was swirling around Lochte, a British athlete actually was held up at gunpoint. No one cared about the real gunpoint robbery, only the phony one. And because Ryan Lochte proved not to be a trustworthy narrator and because he doubled-down when he had the chance to walk back his story, people focused on him and not the fact that his story had more truth than anyone wanted to admit. Why did four athletes have guns drawn on them for urinating on a wall and maybe ripping down a poster? Who took that money they handed over? And then there’s the most disgraceful part of the whole saga: Brazil’s court-ordered shakedown of swimmer Jimmy Feigen to the tune of $11,000. That’s what Feigen was told to pay in exchange for getting his passport returned. It should have been an international incident, but evidently Lochte had made U.S. diplomats too touchy, so they let it slide. Forget a gun — a gavel gets you much further in Rio.

That Feigen and his other two teammates are to be suspended is an even greater injustice than the Lochte suspension. As far as we know, their only crimes were hanging out with a liquor-swilling swimmer with a Peter Pan complex. At least there’s a defense — misguided though it might be — for Lochte’s ban. Trying to sell us on a suspension of three other guys who told the truth is a harder sell.

U.S. swimming has bared its teeth before. Michael Phelps got a six-month suspension for a second DUI and was banned from the 2015 world championships, even though they were held well after the six-month window had closed. (It probably ended up being the best thing for Phelps but that doesn’t change the fact that his punishment was unusually Draconian.) Lochte got four more months over a saga that began with his mom talking to a reporter. He didn’t hurt anybody. He didn’t put himself in a position to hurt anybody. Brazil’s reputation emerged unscathed despite the issues surrounding its treatment of the other athletes with Lochte. It was all in the past.

Now, Ryan Lochte’s imbecilic three-day tale will end up defining, and likely ending, his historic Olympic career.

It was a farce from start to finish.