Shaun White returned to the Winter Olympics this year for the fourth time and, with his win in the men’s halfpipe competition on Wednesday, became the snowboarder with the most gold medals in the history of the sport. Looming over him, however, are the allegations of sexual harassment brought against him in 2016 by Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in his band Bad Things. In the midst of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, many are wondering why we continue to praise White for his accomplishments while overlooking Zawaideh’s sexual misconduct case against him, which he settled just last year.
At a news conference following White’s big win on Wednesday — where, according to USA Today, only male reporters were called on, even though at least two women had their hands raised for the entire 13-minute session — ABC News’s Matt Gutman attempted to get White to address the allegations. When Gutman asked whether White thought the claims would tarnish his legacy, White said, “You know, honestly, [I’m] here to talk about the Olympics not, you know, gossip, so…”
White continued, “But I don’t think so. I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am. And my friends love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.” Gutman pressed on, asking White about his word choice in calling the allegations for which he was taken to court “gossip.” Before White could answer, the conference’s (male) moderator interrupted, saying, “I think we’re here to talk about the gold medal and the amazing day we had today.” The reporter persisted still, saying he wanted the allegations addressed, to which White responded, “I feel like I addressed it.”
A few hours later, during an appearance on the Today show, host Savannah Guthrie gave White a chance to amend his previous remarks. “I’m truly sorry that I chose the word ‘gossip.’ It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today,” he said. “I’m just truly sorry. I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience, but yeah.”
Like Gutman, Guthrie attempted to push White to say something of substance about the allegations, what he learned from them, or, at the very least, how he feels about the current movement against sexual misconduct by powerful men. Instead, Guthrie got another non-answer: “I’ve grown as a person over the years. It’s amazing — you’ve known me for a long time now — it’s amazing how life works with twists and turns and lessons learned,” White said. “So every experience in my life, I feel like it’s taught me a lesson, and I definitely feel like I’m a much more changed person than I was when I was younger. And yeah, I’m just proud of who I am today.”
According to the Associated Press, Zawaideh said in the lawsuit against White that he repeatedly sexually harassed her by forcing her to watch pornography, commenting on her physical appearance, and sending her unwanted, explicit text messages. She also alleged that White had once groped her, attempted to kiss her, and forced her to drink from a bottle of vodka. The lawsuit was settled in May 2017 for an undisclosed amount.
More on allegations of sexual assault and harassment:
- Guess Cofounder Denies Kate Upton’s Sexual Misconduct Claims
- 7 Famous Men Accused of Sexual Misconduct in 2017
- Meet the Sexual Assault Survivors Attending Trump’s State of the Union
If you need a break from the news, watch Lupita Nyong’o take a Rorschach test: