The Ryan Lochte and Rio brands clash

Not to take it too lightly or too seriously, but the Ryan Lochte incident in Rio is interesting to me because it’s a war of two, highly different brands.

On one hand, you have Lochte, an Olympic swimming champion most known for partying with Prince Harry in Las Vegas and general knucklehead behavior.

Lochte
The brand of frat behavior.

On the other, you have Rio, known for its spectacular sights on the beach and street crime in the streets.

When Lochte claimed he was mugged, there were two reactions, both coming from a different brand perspective. With Lochte, knowing his general doofiness, there was some initial suspicion that maybe he’s not telling the whole truth or incapable of lying. As Greg A. Bedard of Sports Illustrated tweeted at the time, “It’s Lochte. We’re amazed he can dress himself. Everything else is gravy.”

The other reaction was an outrage from Brazilians; angry that frat boy behavior – demolishing parts of a gas station bathroom instead of being mugged – would besmirch the efforts of Brazil to make the Summer Olympics a safe place.

Both reactions were born from emotion.

What the Lochte and Rio brands mean.

Emotion is where brand lives. Companies often believe that rational arguments are the way to steal market share, but they are only supporting points for the emotional reason for choice. We don’t like to think that we choose based on emotion, but we do. We just don’t always realize it. It takes hard brand work to dig deep enough to find those emotional triggers that make brands preferred.

Think of it this way. The rational approach to the Ryan Lochte incident was to say, “He was mugged.” Then when new information came out, “Video shows he didn’t. He lied. End of story.”

Instead, emotions are swirling. Some may forgive Lochte because we know, as Bedard said, he can barely dress himself and he apologized (sorta). Others are angry that a lie hid a sinking suspicion that Lochte thought his tale would be believed because of the City of God brand of Rio.

Either way – and you can believe both – the reactions prove that emotion always wins the day.

Russia. Olympic Doping

Olympic doping is a symptom not a cause

Olympic doping "I'm shocked"Olympic doping? Remember when Captain Renault (Claude Raines from the 1942 movie Casablanca) famously said “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

I’m afraid that is exactly my sarcastic response to implications that the Russian Olympic team doped during the Sochi Olympics and that that coverup was systemic to the Russian state.

Are you shocked? I doubt it.

However, I don’t think this stops with the Russian team. Let’s face facts: Doping and cheating in athletics is a global epidemic that, just like the Spanish Flu of 1918, it respects no boarders and infects the entire globe.

Does Olympic doping bother me?

Lance Armstrong and Olympic dopingYes. But I’m not appalled. Unlike almost all of my friends, I have given up professional sports (and the Olympics are PROFESSIONAL sports) and I am fast losing interest in intercollegiate sports as well. Did my malaise start with Lance Armstrong? Not really. It started when it occurred to me that athletic competition was becoming a religion where winning was embraced as a modern form of spiritual redemption.

The problem is the wealth that comes along with winning and, to borrow a term from Donald Trump, “trust me” fame is a form of wealth.

The cult of athletics is not one of humanity’s finer traits. It clouds judgment, suspends introspection and deludes accomplishment. Fans identify with their teams so completely that they ignore the facts that even in intercollegiate athletics, athletes are not the representative of the schools for which they compete. The student athlete for the University of Kentucky’s basketball team has as much in common with the students and grads of that university as I do with an NFL athlete. By the way, don’t think I am ragging on the Wildcats (although they are top-of-mind with me). You could insert almost any university brand in the sentence including North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma… etc. Only Temple University is exempt (check my bio).

Winning is all that matters

In a global culture where winning is a form of self-identification, it is not surprising that we have had scandals in major league baseball, football and cycling. The personal identification with the Manchester United’s of the world is overwhelming but that blind ignorance pales compared to the xenophobic nationalism of the Olympics. Do you think only the Russians cheated?

Olympic DopingMy God, this past week I heard allegations that the Kenyan long distance runners have been doping. You know these super humans? They are 6’4” (legs are 5’ of that height) and they weigh 58 kilos. Rumor has it that they have the hollow bones found only in birds so as to be lighter on their feet. These are the guys and gals that finish the marathon before any of those running the half-marathon come even close to the finish line.

As I think about it, I don’t watch much in the way of sports anymore because I don’t want to think of myself as a fool. Someone duped into thinking everything is on the up and up and athletic accomplishment comes solely from hard work and dedication. I’m not duped because everyone seems to be doped.

Earlier blogs about athletics and the Olympics

With the Olympics, NBC earned gold. Without it, struggling for bronze.

Lance Armstrong finally admits the truth about the NFL

 

Don’t blame reporter for the Bode Miller interview

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia are just past the midway point and it’s had its share of minor controversies. The weather has been warmer than needed (even fog postponed some events today), Americans blamed their new uniforms for the poor showing in speedskating and injuries suffered at the snowboard slopestyle event have been above normal.

But now we have one involving the US television carrier, NBC. It has been criticized by many outlets, including The New York Times, for pushing American skier Bode Miller too far in his post-race interview.

Courtesy of the website Jezebel, here’s a transcript of that interview in which reporter Christin Cooper interjected the recent death of Bode’s brother, nicknamed Chilly.

Miller: This was a little different. With my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sends it. So this was a little different.

Cooper: Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here. What’s going through your mind?

Miller: (Long pause) A lot, obviously. A long struggle coming in here. And, uh, just a tough year.

Cooper: I know you wanted to be here with Chilly experiencing these games, how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him? And was it for him?

Miller: I mean, I don’t know it’s really for him. But I wanted to come here and uh — I don’t know, I guess make my self proud. (Pauses, then wipes away tears.)

Cooper: When you’re looking up in the sky at the start, we see you there and it just looks like you’re talking to somebody. What’s going on there?

la-sp-on-nbc-bode-miller-interview-20140217-001At that point, Miller walked away – and the outrage began on many social media platforms. Miller, though, tweeted that: “I appreciate everyone sticking up for me. Please be gentle w christin cooper, it was crazy emotional and not all her fault. #heatofthemoment. My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.”

You can make the case that Cooper went too far, but it was what NBC asked for – and what we as viewers have wanted. Ever since the days when Jim McKay and ABC were broadcasting the Olympics, networks have sought out the human-interest stories and record ratings have ensued. In Miller’s case, that included the racing for his brother angle. It was the kind of  emotional hook networks seek, and viewers lap up.

Consider this: The interview was broadcast on tape delay, meaning NBC could have simply shortened the interview through editing. It chose not to because, the higher the emotion, the more networks believe viewers are interested.

This was not Cooper’s fault. She was simply following the brand of what the networks believe the Olympics have become.

It was an uncomfortable interview as a viewer, to be sure, and it was hard not to feel immense empathy for Miller. But make no mistake, unless all viewers want is straight sports reporting without the backstory, it was the kind of interview that supported our current version of the Olympics brand.