The Ryan Lochte affair dominated news coverage for the last week of the Olympic Games, overshadowing focus on the amazing achievements of athletes. The Olympic Games provides a unique world forum for star-building and can turn athletes into household names. The Lochte story overshadowed a once in a lifetime opportunity for a number of athletes and turned him into the villain of Rio. Whether media needed to do serial coverage of the story can be debated, but this era is celebrity-driven and scandal sells.
Here are five lessons that any high-profile athlete can learn from this episode:
1) There is no privacy for an athlete once they leave their home. Every action can be captured by cellphone or other recording devices and they need to assume that the public is watching.
2) Athletes receive extraordinary benefits from their high profile. At the professional level they are heavily compensated. At the pro and Olympic level they benefit from endorsement packages. All this depends on the goodwill and approval of fans. The trade-off is being scrupulously careful about public behavior. Planning ahead in situations that involve alcohol or partying in places with alcohol can prevent a myriad of problems. Avoiding fights, firearms and contentious interactions with the opposite sex are key. They can be expected to be held to a higher standard of conduct.
3) If an incident occurs that does not reflect well on an athlete, the aftermath needs to be handled in an honest and forthright manner. Be open with parents, agents, lawyers about the facts. Be sure to know the facts so that nothing comes out later to contradict a statement the athlete makes. If it involves a minor legal problem, the legal issue may be secondary to that of brand or reputation. Lawyers will counsel silence so they can reconstruct the facts in an advantageous defense. I often argue that if my client has done wrong they are in a better position admitting it and not defying the authorities.
4) Move as quickly as is prudent. The repetitive news cycle will run footage or news of an incident over and over. Allowing time to pass and nonstop news cycle stories risks long-term damage. One bad decision viewed fifty times creates the image in a viewer that the athlete always acts that way and is a bad person 24/7.
5) Apologize sincerely and take responsibility for the action. Do not parse words or rationalize. Apologize to all of the constituencies adversely affected. Show concrete action to help a potential victim be made whole. State that you are looking seriously at the source of the behavior and taking steps to prevent a recurrence. Then the healing can begin.
With enough time passing and no recurrence of the behavior, reputation can be restored. The American people today seem to relish the fall of the high and mighty, but they also love a comeback story.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.