Americans’ love affair with Ryan Lochte is over.
Lochte and teammates Gunner Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen were allegedly robbed at gunpoint after taking a taxi back to the Olympic village. Though the International Olympics Committee first denied the story, the organization later issued a statement confirming the swimmer’s account. Now, authorities claim that the athlete’s story was false.
During a Thursday afternoon news conference, Fernando Veloso, chief of civil police in Rio De Janeiro, told reporters quite bluntly, “No robbery was committed against these athletes. They were not victims of the crimes they claimed.”
So, what actually happened that night?
Security footage shows Lochte and teammates Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen went to a gas station at about 6 a.m. Sunday. While there, the crew allegedly busted down a bathroom door and vandalized the station’s property.
— Jessie Karangu (@JMKTV) August 18, 2016
An armed security guard confronted the swimmers, and a gas station manager asked them to pay for the damage. The swimmers reportedly gave the attendant an undisclosed amount of money.
This is far less dramatic than Lochte’s original account, which pitted the swimmers against badge-wielding, gun-toting criminals who robbed the swimmers as they exited a taxi.
On Wednesday, a judge ordered Lochte and Feigen to surrender their passports after questions about the veracity of their claims surfaced. Lochte was already back in the U.S., but Bentz and Conger were pulled off of their flight Wednesday night.
After news surfaced of the swimmers’ ruse, it didn’t take long for #LochteGate (and its more cleverly named sister hashtag, #LochMess) to start trending.
Much of the conversation on Twitter has turned to race and the double standard with the reporting around the swimmers’ actions. Lochte and his teammates seem to be let off the hook while other non-white athletes are criticized, such as the backlash over Gabby Douglas failing to hold her hand over her heart during the national anthem.
— Sāvion (@SavionWright) August 18, 2016
— Herd w/Colin Cowherd (@TheHerd) August 18, 2016
Insulting how Gabby Douglas(20) was being told she needs to fix her attitude in Rio, but #LochteGate and crew are all “kids” who got rowdy.🙄
— Lea (@_MissLeandra) August 18, 2016
White people over 18 = “kids”
Brown people under 18 = adults #LochteGate
— CHRlS ROCK (@chrisrockyoz) August 18, 2016
Gabby Douglas was destroyed for hand placement. He pisses on a business and blames a country, and people are making excuses. #LochteGate
— Anthony Dominic (@tmzanthony) August 18, 2016
Others are just having fun with the absurdity of it all:
— Ashley Wood (@awood511) August 18, 2016
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) August 18, 2016
Just talked to Ryan,
Fell off his bike today. Returned it as defective immediately, plan on suing Huffy.#LochteGate
— Ryan Lochte’s Mom (@ryanlochtesmom) August 18, 2016
— SportsNation (@SportsNation) August 18, 2016
The synchronized swimmers would’ve kept their stories straight.. #LochteGate
— Nelson Bighetti (@0ctaviusrex) August 18, 2016
Lochte is remaining firm on his story—and is staying quiet on Twitter.
On Thursday, U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Scott Blackmun issued a statement. It read, in part:
Working in collaboration with the U.S. Consulate in Rio, we have coordinated the athletes’ cooperation with local authorities and ensured their safety throughout the process, but we have not seen the full statements provided by Bentz and Conger.
However, we understand that they describe the events that many have seen on surveillance video made publicly available today. As we understand it, the four athletes (Bentz, Conger, Feigen and Ryan Lochte) 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.
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.
On behalf of the United States Olympic Committee, we apologize to our hosts in Rio and the people of Brazil for this distracting ordeal in the midst of what should rightly be a celebration of excellence.
With three days remaining in the Olympic Games, our primary focus will remain on supporting the athletes who are still competing and celebrating the achievements of those who have finished.
Though a Brazillian judge ordered both Lochte and Feigen to remain in the country, the order came through after Lochte had returned to the U.S. Bentz and Conger have returned to the U.S. as well.
USA Today reported that Feigen is donating roughly $11,000 to a Brazilian charity in order to avoid prosecution:
Breno Melaragno Costa, Feigen’s lawyer in Rio, announced the agreement early Friday after meeting with with a judge and prosecution officials at a police station, ABC and the Associated Press reported.
According to the reports, Costa said Feigen agreed to donate 35,000 Reals to Reaction Institute, a Brazilian charity. Costa said Feigen’s passport would be returned and he would be able to leave Brazil after making the payment, ABC said.
Feigen’s lawyer said that under Brazilian law, a donation can be made to avoid prosecution for minor offenses but he did not say what charge was being contemplated against his client, according to the Associated Press.
How would you advise the athlete’s PR reps to handle this situation, PR Daily readers?
UPDATE: On Friday, Lochte published the following apology on Instagram, sharing it on Twitter as well:
A photo posted by Ryanlochte (@ryanlochte) on Aug 19, 2016 at 7:11am PDT
In it, he said:
I want to apologize for my behavior last weekend—for not being more careful and candid in hour I described the events of that early morning and for my role in taking the focus away from the many athletes fulfilling their dreams of participating in the Olympics. I waited to share these thoughts until it was confirmed that the legal situation was addressed and it was clear that my teammates would be arriving home safely.
However, Lochte remained firm on his version of the events as he apologized for his behavior:
It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country—with a language barrier—and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave, but regardless of the behavior of anyone else that night, I should have been much more responsible in how I handled myself and for that am sorry to my teammates, my fans, my fellow competitors, my sponsors, and the hosts of this great event.
The Washington Post reported:
The only person who appears to have accepted Lochte’s attempt to apologize was Rio Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada.
“We obviously accept his apology, and appreciate it,” Andrada told reporters on Friday (via Yahoo Sports’s Greg Wyshynski).
Andrada’s quick acceptance of Lochte’s latest words shouldn’t come as a surprise, however. While the Rio de Janeiro police uncovered Lochte fabricated his original tale, Andrada was already making excuses for him and the three other American swimmers involved in the incident that took place early Sunday morning.
“We have to understand that these kids came here to have fun,” Andrada said Thursday. “Let’s give these kids a break. Sometimes you make decisions that you later regret. They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on.”
Though Andrada accepted Lochte’s apology on behalf of the Rio Olympics, Twitter users were not as kind:
Ryan Lochte apology mentions his sponsors before “hosts of this great event.” Interesting…
— Christine Brennan (@cbrennansports) August 19, 2016
— Carlos Whittaker (@loswhit) August 19, 2016
I mean, at least if you’re going to ghost a Ryan Lochte statement, put in a typo.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) August 19, 2016
Congrats to Ryan Lochte for winning the gold in the 100 meter backpedal
— Erin Gloria Ryan (@morninggloria) August 19, 2016
.@RyanLochte Will you play yourself in the Lifetime original movie about this incident titled “Missing Pieces”?
— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) August 19, 2016