U.S. swimmer and Olympic gold medalist Ryan Lochte was supposed to be celebrating at the end of the Rio Olympics, but there's not much cause for celebration anymore. Lochte's successful career hit an all-time low just after he finished his competition in Rio, when he admitted to having "over-exaggerated" about being robbed at gunpoint after security camera video proved that he and his teammates publicly urinated and destroyed a gas station sign. The star swimmer is now back in the United States, and the future of his career is much more uncertain than it was before the Olympics. There's no official word on what Lochte will do next, but his plans are going to be much different than they would be if #Lochtegate had never happened.
Before his exploits in Rio, Lochte's future was bright and clear. Riding high off his success in the Olympics and the likely end of his athletic career, he'd still be ripe with endorsement deals, and probably have landed a lucrative deal with NBC to commentate at the next Olympics. Maybe he'd even have tried to bring back his television career. But that all doesn't seem to be an option anymore, now that his public persona has imploded, according to sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman. “Lochte has damaged his brand irreparably, created an international incident, and proven how stupid he is,” Dorfman told CBS News. “No sponsor wants to attach their name to an athlete like that."
In the immediate future, Lochte might make some media appearances in which he tries to walk back all the mistakes he made in Rio. Some contrite interviews with high-profile anchors like Katie Couric and Robin Roberts might do a little to soften the blow from his epic fallout. But most people, and most companies, likely won't fall for it. But given the interview with Matt Lauer he's already done since getting back to the U.S., it looks like he's not going to stay silent. There are also rumors that he might appear on Dancing with the Stars, so he doesn't seem intent on going quietly.
In the long term, Lochte's best bet might be returning to swimming as a coach. He could try to keep training and return to the Olympics in 2020 to redeem himself, but it will be a lot tougher to finance his training and expenses without the cache of sponsors that dropped him. If he doesn't perform extremely well and say all the right things to earn forgiveness, a comeback attempt could do even more damage to his reputation than dropping out of the limelight. Plus, there's still a chance that he could be banned from swimming by the U.S. Olympic Committee, which would relieve him of that option altogether.
Coaching would give Lochte the opportunity to stay involved in the sport and probably make a decent living. In a few years, when the hype dies down, he could also become involved with the sport's governing bodies, since his mistakes don't change the fact that he's got serious insider knowledge. Until time erodes some of the damage he's done to himself, Lochte should lay low and strategize for his post-Olympic life.
To put it succinctly, Lochte really screwed himself over in Rio. His once-valuable personal brand is PR poison now, and his options for a second act are therefore severely limited — Michael Phelps made a comeback after his weed-smoking debacle, but the backlash from this incident is already a lot worse. Lochte would do best by staying out from the spotlight. Time heals most wounds, and he could still make a resurgence someday.