I think we can all agree it has been a rough week for Ryan Lochte.
When you think of Ryan Lochte, what comes to mind? An Olympian, sure. But, I’m sure you also think about the recent cover-up scandal from the Rio Olympics.
On August 14, Ryan Lochte told NBC’s the “Today Show,” “We got pulled over in the taxi, and these guys came out with a badge, a police badge, no lights, no nothing- just a police badge and they pulled us over. They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground — they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so — I’m not getting down on the ground.”
Shortly after that statement, officials revealed that the early Saturday-morning incident was quite different in fact.
Lochte and three of his teammates vandalized a gas station, urinated on the premises, and then tried to pay for the damages when the armed guards confronted them.
Ryan seems to be swimming further and further up the well known “S” creek without a paddle (pun intended).
Serious Crisis Management
In comes PR professional Matthew Hiltzik. Hiltzik is a veteran PR consultant that has helped celebrities including Justin Bieber (where does a PR consultant even start with the Biebs??) and troubled athletes including MLB star Ryan Braun (what athlete doesn’t use performance enhancing drugs) and NFL’s Manti Te’o (people lie about made-up girlfriends every day, right).
Following the plan from Hiltzik, Lochte gave two back to back interviews on August 20th (which is an unusual PR strategy), but he needed to reach two different audiences. Lochte spoke with NBC’s Matt Lauer to apologize to the general public in the United States, as well as Globo’s Felipe Santana, to speak to the people of Brazil.
“I was immature, and I made a stupid mistake,” Lochte said in the interview with Lauer. “I’m human. I’ll definitely learn from this. I’m just really sorry.”
This statement and interview came only after 3 other teammates had been interrogated and blocked from leaving the country; two of which were actually pulled out of the plane.
It appears Lochte was being sincere, but the damning video footage evidence seem to have forced the apology. Many people in the PR community agree. Lochte is using the interviews to state his apology, when he should be using the interviews to help rebuild the public’s trust in him. Lochte should be proving the incident was a lapse in judgement vs. character.
Lochte’s four endorsement companies he had secured while entering the Olympics, must also agree it was a lapse in character, as all four cut him on Monday, August 22. Reports say those endorsements will cost Lochte $1 million. Speedo was the first to cut ties with the swimmer by cutting his contract, but managed a positive PR spin by donating a $50,000 fee to Save The Children, a global charity partner of Speedo USA’s parent company. Later that same day, Ralph Lauren, Syneron-Candela (the parent company of Gentle Hair Removal), and Airweave (a mattress company) all said they were parting ways with the Olympian.
Can he recover?
Will we see him in the 2020 Olympics? Well, we have seen other athletes recover from scandals. Remember Tiger Woods and his extramarital relations scandal? He is still a top ranked golfer with about $40 million in endorsement deals this year, Michal Vick still plays for the NFL after being convicted of dog fitting, and we’ve even seen past Olympic swimmer, Michael Phelps, compete again after a drug scandal. All of these athletes were able to bounce back with the help of effective public relations to rebuild their image.
What should Lochte do from here?
One thing that all of the above athletes did to help repair the damage was admit their mistakes and accept responsibility for their actions in a timely manner. They also expressed shame in their actions and promised the public they would improve themselves as individuals. We still haven’t heard the latter part from Lochte. Promises like that can easily be made and broken, but he needs to come up with a way to show the public he’s serious. Examples: Phelps agreed to more random drug tests to prove his dedication and Vick pledged to work with the Humane Society to show his.
Lochte also needs to take some space from the media, pledge to change and emphasize positive involvement in the community. He needs to show the public that he is striving to improve himself and prove to the public it’s the last time he will be involved in a situation such as what happed in Rio. Only time will tell how this scandal will affect the future of the decorated Olympian Ryan Lochte, but I will be following this story closely to see how it unfolds.
-Brittani Wilson │ Public Relations Specialist