According to a report from USA Today, Ryan Lochte joining the next season of Dancing with the Stars appears to be a done deal. And with Lochte avoiding any denials, it seems safe to assume he'll be "Jeah!"-ing all over DWTS for Season 23. (ABC offered no comment when TVGuide.com reached out on the rumored casting).
While we're never happy to slap food from anyone's mouth, this is not a gold medal winning choice -- one we can only hope ABC quickly nixes before the network's official announcement of the Season 23 cast on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
Don't get us wrong: Lochte seems like a good choice on the surface. That face! Those abs! He's the kind of eye candy and lovable, all-American doofus DWTS' audience would gladly fling its doors open for to have dinner with. He's probably a mediocre dancer too, if we had to guess; based on his ability to do one thing extremely well, odds are he's no killer on the dance floor, which will be both adorable and agonizing to watch. Finally, Ryan Lochte is, as you may know, wrapped up in a scandal. And if there's anything DWTS loves as much as a hot, all-American athlete with stunning abs, it's someone slightly scandalous.
The thing here is, it's too soon. Paula Deen's DWTS appearance came almost two years after her empire collapsed when we discovered she treated her black employees like dirt. It hasn't even been a full month since Ryan Lochte acted a drunken fool in Brazil, lied to the media and authorities about being assaulted, and then left his teammates hanging. The full ramifications of what he did haven't yet been felt; he's still awaiting punishment, and there are grumblings that an anti-American sentiment brewing in the international Olympic committee might prevent the U.S. from hosting the event in 2024.
In reality that's due to something else entirely, but Lochte did in Brazil exactly what people across the world hate about Americans: show up, get hammered, trash the place, leave and then act like nothing happened or blame it on someone else. It's outrageous. It's not funny. It's deplorable, and that's why his sponsors -- all of them -- had the good sense to drop him (at least until a cough drop company picked him up earlier today).
Right now, every major institution in our society -- from law enforcement to criminal justice to media to higher education -- is deeply mired in a tough, uncomfortable conversation that illuminates how white straight men reap advantages other people don't. This is what white male privilege looks like: doing something terrible, having it written off as an "Aw shucks" accident and then rebounding without missing a step. Paint that in contrast to how Gabby Douglas, a black woman, was compelled to make a statement after people said she was making some sort of anti-American/Black Lives Matter protest because she didn't put her hand over her heart (which isn't required anyway!) during the national anthem. Sure, Lochte's Dancing deal had been in the works for a while...but still. Him getting a space on DWTS right now feels like an inappropriate reward, the true definition of the privilege in white privilege.
The other issue? Dancing with the Stars pretends to be lowbrow, cheeky trash culture but in reality, it achieves the miraculous feat of making American values sparkle. Last season's phenomenal performances and eventual win by completely deaf contestant Nyle DiMarco felt like triumphs because he represented the best of American values: grit, determination, self-mastery, and always finding a way instead of an excuse.
DiMarco used what most of us would see a setback as a tool for greatness. He actively tried to inspire people. Same with Bindi Irwin; we rooted for her because she pushed forward in spite of personal tragedy. What's inspiring about the guy who literally pissed on the country that was hosting us during the Olympics? Dancing with the Stars is an inspirational family event. Bringing Ryan Lochte on now feels like an actual low, not a tongue in cheek one.
Which is not to say Ryan Lochte should never be on DWTS. On the contrary, he's a perfect choice for two or three seasons down the road provided he actually feels the full weight of his punishment and makes adequate amends. In the meantime, DWTS can reach higher by selecting any of the numerous Olympic athletes that offer up hope or even hokery -- like maybe Abbey D'Agostino, the runner who fell and checked on her opponent. Or maybe a reality show star who's done her penance. Or perhaps a forgotten performer dying to redeem herself.
But before we add Lochte, let's clean up the crap he left in the pool first.