Shaun White, a three-time Olympic gold medalist in the halfpipe, may not be celebrating his recent victory for too long, since more attention is being given to allegations of sexual harassment against him.
White, 31, won his third gold medal Tuesday night in Pyeongchang after a spectacular display of snowboarding in the men’s halfpipe, outperforming his global rivals and gaining what many have described as redemption following his fourth place finish in the Sochi Olympics four years ago. But his past off the slopes is catching up to him.
In the offseason, White also has performed as the frontman in a band called “Bad Things.” On Wednesday, he responded to reporters questions about his treatment of the former female drummer of that band, Lena Zawaideh, who alleged that White sent her lewd text messages and engaged in other inappropriate behavior with her.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip,” he told reporters when asked about the allegations.
Shaun White responds to questions about sexual misconduct allegations made against him in 2016 lawsuit: "I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip and stuff." https://t.co/q8paxSc2Rd pic.twitter.com/FqV3nA5uIH— AP Sports (@AP_Sports) February 14, 2018
White later expressed regret at his choice of words, saying “it was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”
Shaun White apologizes for using the word "gossip" in reference to sexual misconduct allegations pic.twitter.com/hOGbnCejT6— JessicaSimeone (@JessicaSimeone) February 14, 2018
Zawaideh alleged in a lawsuit against White that the snowboarding legend had pressured her into joining the band to play as his drummer. When she finally acquiesced, White further pressured her into changing her appearance, including sending text messages to her making it clear that he wanted her to cut her hair shorter.
When she said no, White texted her back, writing, “are u sure this is the decision u want to make... ??”
His antics went further than that. White frequently sent images of erect penises and shared with her unsolicited pornography that “[sexualized] human fecal matter.” White also sought to sexualize Zawaideh herself, urging her to wear see-through clothes while performing. He also made several threats to slap her, the suit alleges, and referred to her as “b****” on many occasions.
Zawaideh said in her lawsuit that she endured seven years of White’s abuse, beginning when she joined the band as a 17-year-old.
White is a celebrated sports icon, but his behavior off the slopes needs to be put in a brighter spotlight. Simply because he’s been able to win several medals for Team USA doesn’t excuse his actions against others.
Some people may feel disappointment over discovering what kind of person White may be, but that disappointment should not be directed toward his accuser — it should be directed toward White himself. The allegations made against him are not mere “gossip,” and White should not attempt to downplay their seriousness.