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Another Voice: Olympic pressure is not an excuse for vandalism

By Steve Siebold

I played on the international tennis circuit for seven years. Representing the United States around the world was by far the greatest honor of my professional sports career.

Whenever we would travel to a foreign country for a competition, two things were made extremely clear: 1) You are a guest in the country and you show the utmost respect for the host nation. 2) Your actions off the court are just as important as your actions on the court, because you are always representing the United States.

With the events in Rio, where it became clear that four members of the U.S. swim team were not the victims of a robbery as they first reported, but apparently vandalized a gas station, I’m angered and dismayed like the rest of us.

In the past 30 years, I’ve worked as a psychological performance coach to top athletes, and I can tell you that the pressures that come with Olympic glory and fame are no excuse for the swimmers’ actions. Yes, professional athletes at the Olympic level are under the immense stress of competing against the world’s best athletes and having an entire nation counting on them to win. However, this pressure would not push an athlete to the breaking point of not being able to distinguish right from wrong.

Many athletes are sent away from their families at a very young age. They eat, drink and sleep training. With all the fame and celebrity status that many athletes gain, it’s nowhere nearly as glamorous as you might think. These athletes face the utmost in physical and mental challenges on a daily basis. Still, these challenges will not turn a good person into a vandal.

The Olympics aren’t only about winning or losing. There are so many lessons we can all learn from the spirit of the games.

Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, didn’t do enough when he issued this statement: “On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, we apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence.”

That’s a start, but actions speak louder than words. If the U.S. Olympic Committee was truly sorry, it would force Ryan Lochte, James Feigen, Gunnar Bentz and Jack Conger to return to Rio and do community service, or work in the vandalized gas station. That would be more in line with the true spirit of the Olympics.

In the meantime, no matter how many gold medals Lochte and his teammates have won, they are a disgrace to the United States and to all of the men and women who work so hard to be able to represent their countries.

Steve Siebold is a former professional athlete and a psychological performance and mental toughness coach to athletes.

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