Ryan Lochte may have hightailed it out of Rio de Janeiro in the wake of his much-disputed tale of being a victim of an armed robbery, but his sponsors haven’t abandoned the 12-time Olympic medalist.
A Speedo spokesman confirmed Thursday that the now-notorious swimmer continues to be sponsored by the swimwear brand. As for whether they will stand by him, the spokesman said, “Speedo is following the situation, and has a policy not to comment on ongoing legal investigations.”
A Ralph Lauren spokesman said Thursday, “We are working closely with the USOC on the developments in Rio and are reviewing the situation.”
The four-time Olympian sparked an international firestorm Sunday, after claiming that he and three teammates — Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen — were pulled over and robbed by gun-toting men posing as police officers while on their way back to the Olympic Village after a night of drinking. Lochte has since retracted some of that story line and Rio de Janeiro police claim he and his three fellow swimmers lied about the incident and vandalized a restroom in a gas station.
An International Olympic Committee spokeswoman said Thursday, “We understand there is a police inquiry and we are therefore not able to comment further.”
Lochte, who celebrated his 32nd birthday earlier this month, returned to his Gainesville, Fla., home Tuesday. Brazilian officials escorted Bentz and Conger from their airplane Wednesday night for further questioning and they have since been released. Both Americans returned to the U.S. Thursday.
After providing a statement earlier in the week, Feigen provided a revised one Thursday “with the hope of securing the release of his passport as soon as possible,” according to a statement released by USOC chief executive officer Scott Blackmun.
“As we understand it, the four athletes left France House early in the morning of August 14 in a taxi headed to the Olympic Village. They stopped at a gas station to use the restroom, where one of the athletes committed an act of vandalism. An argument ensued between the athletes and two armed gas station security staff, who displayed their weapons, ordered the athletes from their vehicle and demanded the athletes provide a monetary payment. Once the security officials received money from the athletes, the athletes were allowed to leave,” he said.
“The behavior of these athletes is not acceptable, nor does it represent the values of Team USA or the conduct of the vast majority of its members. We will further review the matter, and any potential consequences for the athletes, when we return to the United States,” Blackmun said
Four years ago, Lochte had legal issues of another kind, trademarking the expression “Jeah” or, as he explained, “It means, like, almost everything.”
Another Lochte sponsor Airweave, which is also the official mattress supplier of the USOC, is standing by him. Founder Motokuni Takaoka said Friday, “We do not condone unlawful behavior and will continue to monitor the investigation closely. I respect the athletic performance of Ryan, and as long as he is a respectable athlete, he will remain a U.S. ambassador for Airweave as long as our partnership agreement remains effective. Our focus is on supporting Team USA, and our hope is people will remain focused on cheering on the athletes who still have events to compete in.”
Executives at Gatorade and Marriott did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. Although Gillette is listed among Lochte’s sponsors on his web site, a company spokeswoman said he is not a Gillette-signed athlete for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Games, nor is he under contract.
Whether or not Lochte loses sponsors depends on “how he works with them and the nature of the chief executive officer or the chief marketing officer,” according to Rick Burton, Syracuse University professor of Sport Management. “A lot of times it comes down to, ‘Can the organization stand the heat?’ In this case, if everybody’s able to paint this as these guys have been training incredibly hard for the last three years. They had sacrificed a lot — their social lives — and they were out letting off steam, it got out of control, they did it the wrong way, they’re sorry and they shouldn’t have done this, then there are a lot of Americans who would say, ‘I’ve been in that situation myself.’ and I think they move towards forgiveness.”
“Any organization that seeks to use a celebrity knows that that celebrity could be in the tabloids the next day. And you do everything you can to make sure your selections are really good,” Burton said. “I was with the USOC [as chief marketing officer for the 2008 Summer Games] and right after Beijing, Michael Phelps was photographed with a bong. He’s been arrested on a DUI [in 2004 and 2014]. And that now is all conveniently forgotten because Ryan Lochte is the person we’re going to focus on.
“Companies know, and have known, for years that endorsement deals mean that athletes are held to a higher standard, and you’re only minutes away from something coming up that you couldn’t have predicted,” Burton said.