NEW YORK (Reuters) - Swimmer Ryan Lochte was dubbed “The Ugly American” on Friday as U.S. media turned on the once beloved Olympic champion, saying his made-up tale of being robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro played into the worst stereotypes of Americans abroad.
Lochte, 32, is accused by Brazilian authorities of fabricating a story that made headlines around the world of being robbed by gunmen posing as policemen. Surveillance footage and Brazilian investigations showed that Lochte, and three other U.S. swimmers, vandalized a gas station bathroom and urinated in public on their way home from a party last weekend.
“The Lochte Mess Monster”, ran the front page of the New York Daily News, adding in an editorial that the 12-time Olympic medalist was “dripping with juvenile entitlement” and would go down in history as “as an emotionally stunted lying fool”.
The New York Post was equally scathing. “Liar, Liar, Speedo on Fire. The Ugly American,” its front page headline said. The Post’s sports columnist Mike Vaccaro said Lochte’s behavior represented the worst kind of American.
“We have him, and his kind, to thank for the suspicious stares we get on the streets of Prague, or the rolled eyes we get standing in line for gelato in Florence, or the curious questions we get from cab drivers in County Clare,” Vaccaro wrote.
Lochte’s belated apology on Friday, in a statement posted on his Instagram page, won him few friends. “Your apology was poor. Try again. Shame on you,” wrote Maria Charles on Friday on Twitter.
It was all a far cry from four years ago when Lochte was the breakout star of the London Olympics, landing a short-lived reality TV series called “What Would Ryan Lochte Do?” and appearing, as himself, on top shows like “30 Rock” and “90210”.
Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins wrote on Friday that Lochte represents “a special category of obnoxious American bro”.
Jenkins concluded that Lochte is “done as a public figure of course, which is probably the most effective form of justice for someone who apparently so craves attention. Oblivion is what he deserves.”
Lochte’s potential for future sponsorship deals appears to be limited.
“For new brands looking to hire a spokesman or an endorser to be the face of a brand, he’ll be toxic for a while,” said Gary Fechter, a lawyer with McCarter & English who has worked in corporate endorsements.
Posts under the Twitter hashtag #Lochtegate were filled with scorn. One Twitter meme showed the faces of Lochte and swimmers Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen pasted onto a poster for female TV show “Pretty Little Liars”.
Others noted the contrast between Rio Olympic spokesman Mario Andrada’s plea on Thursday to “give these kids a break” and the vilification on social media during the games of U.S. gymnast Gabby Douglas over her hair and for not holding her hand to her heart during the U.S. national anthem.
Elsewhere, African-American author and Internet radio show host Tariq Nasheed commented on Twitter: “If Black athletes pulled that #LochteGate stunt, the headlines would read “Black Lives Matter Thugs Caused Terror At The Olympics”.”
Additonal reporting by Liana Baker; Editing by Jan Harvey