Ryan Lochte: What Was He Thinking?


His Brand Is Shot

Andy-Blum-headshotBy Andrew Blum

What was he thinking? U.S. Olympic swimmer and 12-time gold medalist Ryan Lochte may have destroyed his swimming career and his brand all in one shot. By pulling a Brian Williams in making up the story that he was robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics, Lochte lost his credibility, hurt the three teammates he was out with that night, hurt the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S., and after he weakly apologized, lost $1 million worth of sponsor deals.

Sponsors these days want squeaky-clean celebrities as their spokespeople – one infraction or even a bad flood of social media can hurt a brand, and a celebrity spokesperson. And presto they’re gone.

This is not surprising as even tennis pro Maria Sharapova – who went public with an inadvertent violation of tennis drug rules – lost sponsors. She was upfront with the media and is now appealing a suspension.

Lochte hemmed and hawed for a few days and flew home while the brouhaha exploded in Brazil. Coming up it will get worse as it almost certain the USOC will discipline Lochte and his three teammates. His career and his brand are shot in the short term. Who would hire Lochte now, and who would want him representing the U.S. at this point?

Some questions: why didn’t the USOC have security with a high-profile athlete out on the town in a city with known dangers? Why didn’t Lochte have personal security with him? And how could he weave his tale without anyone asking him, “Ok, if you were robbed at gunpoint, did they take your wallet and cell phone?”  The story smelled from the beginning.

So, now do we have a new standard to think of next time we send athletes to an international event?

Do we have to shelter a team or an individual like the U.S. did in putting the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s sleeping quarters on a cruise ship away from it all during their gold medal run?

Or should a star like Lochte be a grown up and behave like it? Yes, we do forgive celebs in this society after we put them on a pedestal and then knock them down or see them take themselves down.

Think here of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, maybe Sharapova if she wins her appeal, Brian Williams, and fellow U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps. He, after all, wound up with drug and DUI problems and came back to win again and retake his brand in the process.

Time will tell for Lochte. For now, he is a PR case study and the answer to a trivia question with a Wikipedia page that has already been updated to reflect what he did in Brazil.

About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies, families and individuals, and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive PR crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ajbcomms@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms 


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