The Rio Olympics came to an end last night and the Americans walked away with more medals than they’ve ever won before on foreign soil. Our swim team did especially well, taking home 33 medals. The next closest team was Australia with 10. But instead of coming home to cheers, several US swimmers are coming home to jeers.
By now, you’ve heard all about the late night ride of Ryan Lochte and friends. A story so bizarre, that if you wrote it into a TV show, no one would believe you. Olympic stars robbed at gunpoint by men dressed as law enforcement officials. It was a harrowing vision but one we all expected after everything we’d heard about the dangers of Rio.
See! We were right.
Only, it didn’t actually happen the way Lochte told it. . . and on national TV no less. Then, as the story began to fall apart, he changed his story. . . and on national TV no less. Then he fled the country, leaving his teammates to face the wrath of Rio.
Confronted with irrefutable security footage, the men had no choice but to tell the real truth. In their drunken state, they vandalized a gas station. The security guard pulled a gun to keep the men there while he called the police. An eyewitness who translated for the swimmers said they didn’t want to involve the police and offered to pay for the damages instead. The guard finally took the money and the men went on their way.
A frightening encounter, to be sure, but not nearly as dramatic as the first story.
Matt Lauer asked Ryan Lochte why he lied about being robbed. He responded:
“It’s how you want to make it look like. Whether you call it a robbery or whether you call it extortion, or us paying just for the damages. We don’t know. All we know is there was a gun pointed in our direction and we were demanded to give money.”
Sounds like he still believes the original story was the truth.
Lochte did get around to saying that he felt bad for leaving his friends behind to deal with the mess and for taking attention away from other Olympic athletes, but is that enough?
Like many stories that begin with a lie, the liars aren’t the only injured parties. The entire US Olympic team is now caught in the shadow of this ugly story. The name Simone Biles is still on the tongue, but social media can’t get enough of #Lochtegate.
When you add in the response to Gabby Douglas’ perceived faux pas earlier in the week, the discussion gets racial. Sad and ironic, given that the Olympics are supposed to be about people of every race, creed and color coming together for the greater good.
Now that the games are over, it’s on to the all-important, very expensive, endorsement deals. Gabby Douglas may have taken a public beating but now her stock is on the rise. Media outlets are applauding her resilience and that could lead to even more endorsement deals then ever before.
On the other hand, companies who deal with Lochte are likely looking for legal loopholes to get them out of the their contracts. And that fear of reputation assassination by proxy could affect the entire US Olympic swim team.
Only four swimmers were involved in the incident, but what are people going to remember about Rio? Will they remember the names of the other three? Or will they just remember the lies those Olympic swimmers told to get attention? Would you risk your company’s reputation on the American consumer’s ability to separate the innocent from the guilty?
We’ve already heard from one sponsor, a Japanese mattress company Airweave. The founder told Bloomberg;
“I respect the athletic performance of Ryan, and as long as he is a respectable athlete, he will remain the U.S. ambassador for Airweave as long as our partnership agreement remains effective.”
Respectable athlete? Trashing a small business, drunk and disorderly, nearly getting yourself and your teammates shot, lying repeatedly, all when you’re in a foreign country as an official representative of the United States? Sounds like Airweave has grounds for severing their ties with the athlete. And we wouldn’t be at all surprised if Lochte’s other sponsors, Speedo and Ralph Lauren, cut up their contracts as well.
In addition, Lochte will likely be required to pay a fine similar to that of his teammate ($10,000 to a Brazilian charity) and he could face disciplinary action from the Olympic committee.
The only bright spot in this dismal storm is the fact that we’re only talking about a loss of reputation and not a loss of life. From the sound of it, things could have ended very differently and very tragically. Here’s to safe passage for all of our Olympians as they travel home from what should still be, the greatest two weeks of their lives.