On Tuesday, spectators cheered and awed over Shaun White after he managed to snag the gold medal from Japan’s Ayumu Hirano in the men’s halfpipe event, but by the time Wednesday rolled around, things took a turn.
After the tears were shed and the chants of White’s name died down, talk of White’s sexual misconduct allegations from 2016 bubbled up on social media as netizens wondered why no one was talking about it in the midst of the #MeToo movement.
In August 2016, Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer of White’s rock band, Bad Things, filed a lawsuit against the athlete alleging he had “repeatedly sexually harassed and forced his authoritarian management style on her for over seven years [that she’d been with the group],” according to reports. Six months later, White reportedly requested the San Diego Superior Court to have his accuser undergo a mental health evaluation — three months later the two reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount.
At a Wednesday afternoon news conference with the Olympic Committee, a journalist posed the snowboarder a question about the allegations — and he responded with a deflection.
“Shaun, over the past couple of days the sexual harassment allegations against you by Lena Zawaideh have resurfaced,” ABC News’ Matt Gutman told White. “Are you concerned that they’re going to tarnish your legacy?”
Responding to Gutman, White said, “Honestly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip.”
“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,” White added, before saying that he felt he’d “addressed it” when the reporter asked him to speak more on the subject.
Gutman was eventually cut off by Nick Alexakos, the US Snowboarding and Freeskiing event director, who indicated the interview should focus more on the Olympic competition, the Huffington Post reported.
Though White’s intention might’ve been to ease the atmosphere, his comment of the allegations being “gossip” only added fuel to the fire, and he soon took notice of it. Speaking with Today’s Savannah Guthrie, White quickly apologized for his remark.
“I’m truly sorry that I chose the word ‘gossip,'” he said. “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”
“I’m just truly sorry… I was just overwhelmed with wanting to talk about how amazing today was and sharing my experience,” he added.