How Lochte should have responded

A look into Ryan Lochte's life as an Olympic athlete
A look into Ryan Lochte's life as an Olympic athlete

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    A look into Ryan Lochte's life as an Olympic athlete

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A look into Ryan Lochte's life as an Olympic athlete 02:59

Story highlights

  • Mark O'Mara: there are countries where swimmer's behavior will get you incarcerated
  • Ryan Lochte apologized Friday for his behavior last weekend at the Rio Olympics

Mark O'Mara is a CNN legal analyst and a criminal defense attorney. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)I've represented "Ryan Lochte." Probably a couple of thousand times in my career. If I remember correctly, he's the guy who came up with a story to try and explain away really stupid behavior and do so in a way that makes him look good, or makes him look like the victim. He tries to put all the responsibility on somebody else, anybody else. It could be a co-defendant, could be the true victim of the crime, could be a mother or a father or a spouse or a neighbor.

Mark O'Mara
But the story always had a lot of similarities: He denies all or almost all of the responsibility for his actions; he puts that responsibility on somebody else; and when it's looked at in the cold light of day, the story falls apart completely, leaving behind only the embarrassing and indefensible shell of the façade he created.
    And when I represented "him," or other clients with a similar set of circumstances, I did what his attorney would do or has done. I try to make a sow's ear into a silk purse. The "benefit of the doubt" is a powerful elixir, and a necessary one, in the criminal justice system. We say, without question, that the system works best when we only convict or punish in the situations where we are certain. This is not meant to denigrate that very revered and necessary principle; we all deserve the protections given to us by our Constitution. It is said, though not often enough, that a justice system is judged on how it treats those accused, rather than those in power.
    But what Lochte and his three cohorts did has more significance than just getting caught with their hand in a cookie jar, or their foot through a door. They decided to put themselves in the spotlight and to play their "but he hit me first" charade on the international stage where, it seems, the Brazilian government has made extraordinary efforts to avoid the negative reputation that these four hooligans placed squarely on that country's shoulders.
    What they did could be considered the false report of a crime, which in most jurisdictions, including Brazil, is a crime itself. Could they be charged? Yes. Should they? Probably not; this tempest in a teapot should just stay where it is. But they should learn the lesson that there are countries where such behavior will get you incarcerated, and sometimes ignored for months afterward, awaiting judicial review.
    Sometimes free advice is worth what you paid for it. Sometimes it's really worth listening to. In those couple of thousand cases where I've represented "him," the advice has almost always been the same. Apologize. My mom used to say, "Tell the truth and shame the devil." I'm not sure I listened to her the first couple of dozen times I heard that, but eventually it starts to make a lot of sense. These guys, who were just out having a good time celebrating the Olympics, did something stupid and got caught.
    Lochte has now given what may pass for an apology. "I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend - for not being more careful and candid," he said. He should have just stopped there, but the rest just detracts from the first and only important sentence.
    If they really want to put this behind them in a way that maintains some shred of their integrity and honor, they need not only to pay a $10,000 "donation," the swimmers need to sincerely apologize to the Brazilian government, to the security guards who were the victims of the subterfuge, and to the American people whom they were representing.
    Now, if they do that, then I think that all those aggrieved need to say a collective "we forgive you" and we can all move on past this high-schoolish stupidity and go back to remembering that Lochte and his buddies -- and everybody else on the Olympic team -- brought an enormous amount of enjoyment and pride to us here at home.