As the Winter Olympics showcases feats of athleticism in South Korea, snowboarder Shaun White is being hailed as one of its heroes. The 31-year-old, who's also a skateboarder and a guitarist, won his third gold medal at the men's snowboard halfpipe event on February 14.
But the praise surrounding the athlete has caused many to reflect on a 2016 lawsuit that brought up disturbing sexual harassment claims against White. And some wonder how the snowboarder can be lauded in spite of the current #MeToo and Time's Up movements.
To back up, the aforementioned lawsuit was filed by White's former bandmate Lena Zawaideh, who was the drummer in his band Bad Things. According to the complaint Zawaideh filed, White sent her disturbing and graphic text messages, which she later showed in court. The suit also alleges that White threatened to slap Zawaideh, and made overtly sexual gestures toward her. In one instance, Zawaideh said, White shoved his hands down his pants, then shoved them in her face so she could smell them.
Though White admitting to sending the graphic text messages, he denied the other charges. At the time of the lawsuit, the athlete said in a statement: "Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit. There is absolutely no coincidence to the timing of her claims, and we will defend them vigorously in court.” Nevertheless, Zawaideh and White reached an out-of-court settlement in 2017.
But, that doesn't mean the matter has been forgotten. Upon learning of White's win, many took to social media to comment on the lawsuit. Here are some of the reactions:
At a press conference held earlier today, White brushed aside questions regarding the scandal. "I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip," he said. He added: "I am who I am, and I'm proud of who I am, and my friends love me and vouch for me. I think that stands on its own."
When pressed on whether the allegations against him were indeed "gossip," a moderator stepped in to shut down the line of questioning. The moderator firmly urged reporters to focus on "the gold medal and the amazing day we had today," while White concluded, "I think I addressed [the scandal.]"
Later, White apologized for the comments on Today. Speaking to Savannah Guthrie, he said: "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. I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience."
The athlete also insisted that he has "grown as a person over the years," and stood by his statement: "I'm proud of who I am today."