If you doubt that Ryan Lochte is going on Dancing With The Stars to try to change the subject away from what he himself has called his "immature, intoxicated behavior" during the Rio Olympics, where he admits he lied about at least some of his story about being robbed at gunpoint, just ask him. It's not a secret. He told USA Today, "It's just an amazing show and hopefully when I'm on it, people will watch and enjoy the show and talk about the show ... Hopefully, it changes everyone's mindset and just focuses on something different." (Lochte has been charged in Brazil with filing a false report, though NPR's David Folkenflik provided some useful caveats recently on Here & Now to some of the strongest accusations against him.)
Redemption for Lochte — who, in the past, had eagerly embraced the role of professional public dummy, real or not — is how the show sees it, too. Executive producer Rob Wade says, "Hopefully, this opportunity will be something that shows Ryan in a good light." And in a line you would not believe if you hadn't seen it published in black and white, Wade said, "I think at the end of the day, he really wants to dance."
Oh, don't we all?
Look, nobody is saying that Lochte has to be condemned forever for a single "I was like, whatever." But the unseemly eagerness to turbocharge this one guy's Limited Admission Of A Partial Possible Fabrication Apology Tour less than two weeks after Lochte began it cannot help but raise questions about which athletes are entitled to such pillow-soft landings after, let's say, an international incident. It's the kind of thing that's hard to prove, since there's a relatively small sample size of Olympians who return from the Olympics apologizing for lying and acting like juvenile drunks (again, this is essentially the shape of his account of what he did). Not a lot of 32-year-olds are going with immaturity as a defense in the first place, so it's hard to say when they'd get a pass for it and when they wouldn't. But I have to wonder: even if there were, would they all have television producers less than two weeks later specifically saying the hope was to show them in a good light? As opposed to, for instance, an honest light?
Don't get me wrong: an appearance on Dancing With The Stars is always a long infomercial for your basic geniality. Do you remember Joey Fatone from N*SYNC? Do you remember how much you like him? WHAAAAAT? You don't? Well, here he is, agreeably learning the cha-cha! How about Kate Gosselin? Sure, you know her as a reality show star, but did you know that she is a very good sport about how she can't dance?
There's a deeply weird logic to who gets to do Dancing With The Stars, but there are types they return to over and over: star athletes; Disney Channel veterans and other Celebrities Of The Young; women over 75 who will be praised for still being active; women over 35 who will be praised for still being active; nostalgia acts; people specifically famous in conservative politics (Tucker Carlson, Bristol Palin, Tom DeLay, and now Rick Perry have been cast); country musicians; and ringers. (Why did Alfonso Ribiero get to be on a show for amateurs? He became famous in a musical called The Tap Dance Kid! He is famous for dancing! Don't get me started on the figure skaters, either.)
The whole thing is a great big goof parade to begin with, whether you like it or don't. It's a shame that I can't link you to a high-quality online version of Tom DeLay doing the samba to "Why Can't We Be Friends?" while wearing a shirt with an elephant on it and dancing with a woman whose dress has a donkey on it. But it was real. As was his dance to "Wild Thing." (Maybe Rick Perry will dance to "Third Thing." No? Anyone?)
Maureen McCormick from The Brady Bunch is on this season, and assuming they don't run into "intellectual" property issues, I think it's a very good bet that you'll see her dance to either "Time To Change" or "Sunshine Day." And there are many more: Laurie Hernandez, who emerged from the Olympics with no scandals at all! Marilu Henner! Babyface, who's been making special appearances since Beverly Hills, 90210! Amber Rose! Vanilla Ice, now well into his third decade of exceeding expectations, durability-wise! (Honestly, though, a dance teacher is the perfect person to understand the key difference between "ding-ding-ding-digga-ding-ding" and "ding-ding-ding-ding-digga-ding-ding.") It's not supposed to be anything serious.
It's partly for this reason, in fact, that I would have let Lochte cool his heels and his new Refreshing Honesty Haircut in Subdued Chestnut for a little while longer. Not forever. I like Dancing as a way to rediscover Joey Fatone and check in with Maureen McCormick. I'm a little less sure how I feel about it as a PR machine for people who are still facing charges over an incident that's still a little murky. I could have stood a little more of an interregnum of regret before they started airing clip packages and, I'm going to guess, having him dance to something like "Oops, I Did It Again." You know, ironically.
They had other options. I'm sure he's not the only one who wanted to dance.