Olympic gold medalist Shaun White was forced to apologize on Wednesday after a social media backlash, following his referring to resurfaced allegations of sexual harassment against him as “gossip.” The already-legendary U.S. snowboarder won his third Olympic gold medal in the men’s halfpipe on Tuesday, but his celebrations were set against a backdrop of resurfacing controversy over a civil lawsuit filed against him in 2016 by the former drummer of his rock band Bad Things.
As fans celebrated his triumph at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which saw White reclaim Olympic gold after finishing outside the medals in Sochi four years ago after having previously won gold in Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010, others took to social media to remind them of the allegations using the hashtag MeToo. In May of 2016, Lena Zawaideh filed a suit alleging that “the public face of Shaun White hides a darker, misogynistic personality.”
Zawaideh accused White of repeated sexual harassment and forcing his authoritarian management style on her. The suit claimed White has sent sexually explicit and graphic images of erect penises to Zawaideh, and that he had “forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter, and made vulgar sexual remarks to her.” It also alleged that White had used his position as founder and financier of Bad Things to “impose a strict regime over Zawaideh, going so far as to demand that she cut her hair, wear sexually revealing clothes and underwear, and refrain from wearing red lipstick — her own personal signature.”
White denied the charges at the time and the case was dropped in 2017 after an undisclosed settlement was reached, but the Olympian found himself once again addressing the allegations at a press conference in Pyeongchang on Wednesday after ABC News’ Matt Gutman asked if White was concerned the resurfaced allegations would tarnish his legacy.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” White responded. “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.”
Many on social media were quick to jump on White’s dismissal of the allegations as “gossip,” something he later apologized for in an interview with “Today’s” Savannah Guthrie, saying he had been “just so overwhelmed with wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience.”
“I’m truly sorry that I chose the world ‘gossip,’” White said. “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”
White continued: “I’ve grown as a person over the years. Every experience in my life I feel like it’s taught me a lesson. I definitely feel I’m a much more changed person than I was when I was younger and I’m proud of who I am today.”
Zawaideh’s lawyer later condemned White’s use of the word “gossip” in the Olympic press conference saying it “minimized the problem of sexual harassment.”
Lawrance Bohm, of The Bohm Law Group, released a statement which read: “Yesterday, Shaun White used the word “gossip” to refer to the past sexual harassment lawsuit by his former drummer Lena Zawaideh, our client. There are powerful forces at play which prevent Ms Zawaideh from speaking about the allegations and ultimate outcome of the sexual harassment case. Before Mr White made his comment, Ms Zawaideh believed that this matter was in the past, and she was happy to put the situation behind her so she can focus on her blossoming music career. Unfortunately, by his recent comments and conduct, Mr White has minimized the problem of sexual harassment in this country. Mr White’s comments, on the world stage, directly impugn the character of Ms Zawaideh. No woman wants to be called a “gossip” or a liar by the harasser. Minimizing sexual harassment maximizes the harm to Ms Zawaideh. Hopefully, before our country declares someone “the best of the U.S.,” there will be investigation and due diligence.”