Ryan Lochte has no choice: He has to go on ‘Dancing With the Stars’

After fabricating details of a robbery at the Rio Olympics that caused an international incident, embattled swimmer Ryan Lochte’s sponsors have been dropping him left and right. But there’s still one place that very much wants to be in the Lochte business: “Dancing With the Stars.”

On Wednesday, People magazine reported that the hit ABC reality competition is courting Lochte to be on Season 23, which debuts in mid-September. (“Ryan has wanted to be on the show for years,” a show “insider” said.) An ABC source confirmed to The Washington Post that Lochte is in talks to be on the show, though as usual, nothing will be officially announced until the cast is revealed next week on “Good Morning America.”

Either way, let’s break this down: Lochte has no choice here. He has to go on “Dancing With the Stars.”

“DWTS” is the ideal safe space for scandal-ridden celebrities — or more specifically, for stars that want to change the conversation. It’s just good old-fashioned image management. Just ask former contestants like Paula Deen, Gary Busey or David Hasselhoff, best known for controversies or erratic behavior. On “DWTS,” there’s an equal playing field: Everyone embarrasses themselves as they wear tacky clothes and struggle to learn the dances.

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Even though Lochte might be the most recently disgraced contestant in show history, it would certainly change the narrative to see him on TV every week in a sparkly costume; he could hopefully display an ounce of humility and self-awareness.

Yet as helpful as an appearance would be, the show doesn’t always treat celebrities with kid gloves. (A few years ago, host Tom Bergeron warned producers that they shouldn’t have him interview musical guest Chris Brown unless Brown was prepared to answer some very uncomfortable questions.) There’s no doubt that if Lochte is a contestant, his damaging lies from Rio will come up. How could the show ignore such a recent incident? But Lochte would be in a controlled environment with so many other distractions, and the main objective — no matter the reason for being there — is to dance well enough to capture the amazingly gaudy Mirror Ball Trophy.

It’s a win-win for ABC: While the show is still going strong with an average of about 13 million viewers per episode last season, ratings have been steadily declining over the years — about 20 million people watched weekly in its heyday around 2011. A Lochte appearance would be a must-watch, especially after all the negative Olympics publicity.

Overall, Lochte still has a ways to go on his road to redemption. But “Dancing With the Stars” is a truly strong start.