Ryan Lochte on 'Dancing with the Stars': A path to forgiveness?

Protesters went onstage during Monday's live episode of the ABC reality competition, apparently objecting to Ryan Lochte's presence on the program. Is appearing on 'DWTS' effective for celebrities looking to change the narrative?

'Dancing With the Stars' host Tom Bergeron (l.) speaks with competitors Cheryl Burke (center) and Ryan Lochte (r.).

The season premiere of the ABC reality competition “Dancing With the Stars” included an incident in which protestors went onstage, showing their displeasure with competitor Ryan Lochte’s actions during the Rio Olympics.

If Lochte was hoping that DWTS would be a platform to recast his public image, it may have backfired – at least in the first round.  

Olympian Ryan Lochte and his dance partner, Cheryl Burke, had already completed a foxtrot on the show when two men went onstage during the live program.

The two were wearing shirts that had “Lochte” crossed out. According to ABC News, the men, Sam Sotoodeh and Barzeen Soroudi, said that what Lochte had done in Brazil had brought danger to those in the US. 

Lochte initially claimed he and three teammates were victims of armed robbery in Brazil. Police have said the swimmers vandalized a bathroom after a night of partying and armed guards confronted them and asked them to pay for the damage. Lochte has since apologized for his "immature behavior.

Lochte is the latest competitor to go on “DWTS” following some kind of controversy. For example, celebrity chef Paula Deen became a contestant on the program in 2015 after admitting to using racial slurs. 

And while Deadline reports that Lochte was involved in negotiations to join the show before the Olympics took place, now many are seeing his appearance on “Dancing” as a similar move to try to appeal to viewers.

“The swimmer is trying to win praise again by joining ‘Dancing With The Stars,’” International Business Times writer Ana Maria Luide Pierz wrote following the announcement that Lochte was joining the show, while Chloe Melas of CNN wrote, “This would be one way to distract from all the negative publicity.”

Is appearing on the program an effective way of winning back TV watchers?

Megan Garber of The Atlantic suggest that it won't help Lochte. But she writes that "there is something very pure, and also vaguely puritanical, about the redemption narrative the show sells,” Ms. Garber continues. “…The appeal of ‘DWTS’ as both a show and an ethic is that it celebrates values that mesh well with many Americans’ own conceptions of themselves: It rewards humility, and bravery, and partnership, and, above all, good, hard work … ‘Dancing With the Stars’ may not bring full redemption for those who seek it at the show’s spangly, sequiny altar. What it does offer, though, are the distractions that can come with bright, shiny things.” 

And Emily Yahr of the Washington Post wrote prior to the show's premiere that Lochte’s move is necessary. “The show doesn’t always treat celebrities with kid gloves,” Ms. Yahr noted. “…But Lochte would be in a controlled environment with so many other distractions … Lochte still has a ways to go on his road to redemption. But ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is a truly strong start.”

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