Despite taking gold in the men’s 4x200m freestyle relay this past summer in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, American swimmer Ryan Lotche has found himself taking home more than just the medal, but also the baggage of an international controversy and embarrassment. As quickly as social media spread the news that the American swimming hero was robbed at gun-point during a night out in Rio, it was just as quickly debunked in what became a game of international cat and mouse. The morning of Aug. 14 found the world waking up to claims by Lochte and his three relay teammates—Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen—that they were robbed the night before while returning to the Olympic village from a party. Red lights immediately went off by both Brazilian authorities and the Olympic committee when the stories began to diverge.
The situation escalated quickly, when just three days after the initial claim, a Brazilian judge ordered the seizure of the four athletes’ passports to ensure they would need to give their testimonies on the events that occurred before leaving the country. While Lochte and Feigen were already back in the United States, Bentz and Conger were not as lucky and were pulled off their plane before takeoff. Authorities detained the two for questioning and attempted to bring Lochte and Feigen back to Brazil via court order.
As time went on, it soon became clear that the whole account was a hoax created by the swimmers to cover up the fact that they were inebriated and vandalized a gas station at the time of the incident. The International Olympic Committee, along with the U.S. Swimming Organization, has issued discipline for the athletes on the account that the case is still in its end phases. It seems to be the case, however, that the athletes will face suspensions.
Even before talks of possible suspension, Lochte already found himself losing sponsors left and right. The 12-time Olympic medalist lost over $6.2 million in endorsements from companies such as Speedo, Airweave, Ralph Lauren and Syneron Candela in under a month.
Had Lochte come out with the truth immediately after the incident, the weeks of investigation that only continued to hurt his career and image could have been quelled in an instant with a reimbursement for damages and an apology. By trying to avoid the situation completely, he only made the already embarrassing international incident even worse.
Though Lochte seems to be on the backend of his career at this point—having only qualified for two events at Rio on top of his recent embarrassment—there is still an opportunity for him to bounce back. One only has to look as far as 23-time Olympic gold medalist Micheal Phelps to see hope for Lochte’s career.
Phelps, now the most decorated Olympian in history, found himself in a spot of trouble with multiple DUI arrests back in 2004 and 2014. After losing sponsors, Phelps went through rehab and showed that he was ready to compete again in time for Rio.
Lochte needs to take a leaf out of his fellow teammate’s book and show that he is indeed worthy of being kept on the team and able to compete at the international level by taking responsibility for his actions.