Speedo to donate part of Lochte sponsorship fee to benefit children in Brazil
The swimsuit maker said that the US Olympic swimmer's fabrication of a robbery runs counter to the company's values, highlighting the public relations risks that sportswear companies take when sponsoring individual athletes.
Speedo has dropped its sponsorship of Ryan Lochte, becoming the first major company to do so following the Olympic swimmer’s untrue claims that he and three teammates were robbed at gunpoint in Rio.
In a tweet on Monday, Speedo USA announced the decision, adding that the company will donate a $50,000 portion of Mr. Lochte’s sponsorship fee to global charity Save the Children, to benefit children in Brazil.
"While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for," the official Speedo USA account tweeted. "We value his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience."
While Speedo is the first major company to drop its sponsorship of Lochte, the American swimmer, once a beloved Olympic figure with a short-lived reality show on E!, has suffered a rapid fall from grace since his claims that he and three fellow swimmers were robbed in Rio have begun to unravel.
Lochte's original story – that in the early hours of Sunday, Aug. 14, men pretending to be police pointed a gun at Lochte's head and demanded money from him and his teammates – slowly began to fall apart in the days that followed. Brazilian police detained swimmers Jack Conger and Gunnar Bentz for questioning because of inconsistent reports and a lack of evidence. Police determined that the story had been fabricated and alleged that, rather than being robbed, the swimmers had been confronted by armed security guards after drunkenly vandalizing a bathroom at a gas station.
In a recent interview with NBC's News' Matt Lauer, Lochte apologized for "over-exaggerating" the story, appearing to admit that he knew the guards were demanding payment for the damage done to the bathroom rather than robbing them. In another interview with Brazil's main broadcaster, Globo, on Saturday, Lochte said he was "truly 110 percent sorry" that "my immaturity caused all this mess," vowing, "It will never happen again."
Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada appeared to downplay the incident, urging others to "give these kids a break."
"Sometimes you take actions that you later regret," he said. "They had fun, they made a mistake, life goes on."
But public opinion of Lochte has not been so forgiving. The story has especially struck a chord for Brazilians who say that Rio had been represented too negatively in the press already, the Christian Science Monitor's Mark Sappenfield reported on Thursday, prior to Lochte's confession:
For months, Brazilians have been hearing that their most famous city is a cesspool of corruption and polluted waters, fretted with crime and disease. If Brazilian police are correct, Lochte turned this stereotype against his hosts in an apparent attempt to avoid punishment or gain notoriety.
Now, Brazilian officials are not only pushing back on Lochte's story but also what they perceive as a sort of global condescension toward Rio.
The incident has also spurred discussion in Lochte's native US about the nature of white privilege and male privilege, as some argue that the swimmer has gotten off relatively easy and compared Lochte's situation to that of Gabby Douglas, the black Olympic gymnast who recently faced criticism when she didn't place her hand over her heart during the national anthem.
Lochte is far from the first professional athlete whose behavior resulted in the loss of a sponsorship deal. Nike and other corporations have suspended the contracts of a number of athletes including Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (alleged child abuse), Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (domestic violence), and tennis star Maria Sharapova (failed drug test).
Sponsors have begun to react more quickly to such scandals in recent years. Nike and Tag Heuer became the first major sponsors to announce they were withdrawing their contracts with Sharapova the same week she revealed in March that she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium, reported The Guardian.
"A few years ago, sponsors would have said and done nothing until the dust had settled and the story had died down," Nigel Currie, British-based sports marketing and sponsorship consultant, told Business Insider. "Now they react immediately and almost add fuel to the story."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.