UPDATED with more sponsorship bailouts: Ralph Lauren followed Speedo by a few hours in deciding to distance its brand from Olympic swimming star Ryan Lochte. The clothing and lifestyle brand responsible for the U.S. Olympians’ uniforms, broke news with ESPN of its decision not to renew its deal with Lochte.
Later today, Gentle Hair Removal parent company Syneron-Candela, and Airweave followed suit, with the mattress company saying its endorsement deal with the swimmer was in support of the Rio 2016 Games, and the skin-care outfit saying in a statement, “We hold our employees to high standards, and we expect the same of our business partners.”
Apparently taking “full responsibility” for “overexaggeration” in his armed-robbery claim during the Rio Olympics was not enough to dissuade Ralph Lauren, or Speedo, from dumping their sponsorship deals with Lochte.
The sponsorship bailouts came shortly after NBC’s Today aired the final bits of a Matt Lauer interview with Lochte, in which the swimmer acknowledged he had “overexaggerated” his original interview with NBC, claiming to have been robbed by a man who’d put a gun to his head. In the interview, Lochte acknowledged he’d urinated in the bushes outside the station and torn down a poster on the building while “intoxicated.” But he continued to say the situation got very tense when a gun was pulled on the group by a man authorities have described as a security guard.
The 32-year-old Lochte had a decade-long relationship with Speedo, which today issued a statement saying it does not condone his behavior in Rio, hopes the incident is a teachable moment for the swimmer and that it will donate $50,000 of his endorsement fee to Save the Children, which will put the money toward helping children in Brazil.
Lochte, in turn, said in a statement he respected Speedo’s decision and thanked the company for the opportunities the relationship had afforded him over the years.
In his new interview with Lochte, portions of which had been unveiled Saturday, Lauer forecast, accurately, that having urinated in some bushes outside a gas station, pulled down a metal-framed poster on the wall and then “overexaggerated” the story “could cost you a lot of money.”
“It could,” Lochte agreed, adding it’s something he would have to live with. But, he argued to Lauer while presumably hoping sponsors were listening, “I know what I did was wrong, and I learned my lesson, and all I can do now is … make sure this kind of stuff never happens again.”
Lochte’s trouble began when he told NBC’s Billy Bush, in an “exclusive” interview that aired around the world, that his taxi was pulled over while in Rio, and he was robbed by a man who’d put a gun to his head. He later told Lauer the gun was pointed in his general direction and also changed other details. Rio police, however, held a news conference at which one cop described Lochte as not a victim but a vandal, who became verbally aggressive when a security guard told him he could not leave without paying for the damage, during which debate the guard pulled his gun.
In addition to waiting to see which sponsors drop him, Lochte’s waiting to see what the U.S. Olympic Committee has in mind when it says it will hand him some form of punishment for the incident.
If he’s allowed to compete in the Tokyo Summer Games, Lochte promised Lauer/sponsors: “I know I can turn this around and become that role model for little kids. I don’t want little kids to look at me for what I just did, for that one night. Or the whole United States, or the entire world, for that matter.”
Lochte said he did not want to be thought of as “a drunk frat boy,” adding, “I want to be a role model for those little kids, and I know I can change that.”