By Ray Casas, President, Wragg & Casas Strategic Communications
Ryan Lochte has a chance at redemption – Americans love to forgive their fallen heroes. But he’s made it much harder by his repeated lies and by leaving his teammates behind to fend for themselves.
The Lochte fiasco proves once again that in the public’s eye, the cover-up often is worse than the crime. To their credit, the sponsors who dropped him did so only after he lied a second time about the gas station incident and video evidence of the facts surfaced.
A celebratory drunken night out on the town after two weeks of intense pressure to excel at the pinnacle of sports competition? Not good, but (wink, wink) boys will be boys. The robbery at gunpoint explanation? A terrible mistake, but one that a quick mea culpa with an offer of restitution might have overcome.
But when Lochte came back to the U.S. without his teammates and continued to insist on the robbery fiction as the facts were coming to light, he made the sponsors’ decisions all but automatic. It’s one thing to be a victim even of your own medal-fueled hubris. It’s altogether different to fly away to safety while others can face criminal charges in a situation made graver by your attempt at a self-serving explanation.
Speedo, Ralph Lauren and Syneron-Candela have rightly positioned themselves on the side of truth, honor and the American Way, and they can’t back off from those positions anytime soon.
So Lochte must now begin the arduous, thankless task of rehabilitating his image. Years of charity work. Children’s causes. When the time is right, a published “What I’ve Learned” piece accompanied by public humility. And practice, practice, practice. Winning, winning, winning.
If he remains an international champion, and after a suitable time has passed, his sponsors, or their competitors, will judge that the positives outweigh the negatives.
He’ll pick up endorsements once again. But they will keep him on a very tight leash.