U.S. Olympic snowboarder Shaun White notched his third gold medal in the 2018 Winter Olympics last night. But his celebrations were quickly clouded by allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by a former member of his rock band.
Here’s what we know.
Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in White’s band “Bad Things,” first filed a suit in May 2016. As detailed by USA Today, she claimed White, the band’s guitarist, had not paid her for work between late 2013 and mid-2014. (It was during this time that White had a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Winter Olympics in Sochi). She amended that suit in August 2016, claiming the Olympian had sexually harassed and assaulted her. Among the allegations, White sent “sexually explicit and graphic images,” which White admitted via a spokesperson. She also alleged that he forced her to wear revealing clothing, cut her hair and wear red lipstick.
In May 2017, the lawsuit was settled.
Why is it coming up now?
After winning the gold in the Men’s Halfpipe on Wednesday, White participated in a 13-minute press conference, where according to USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan, he refused to call on the two female reporters, and ignored questions about the allegations, calling them “gossip.”
Addressing the controversy Wednesday morning, White apologized for his use of the word, and told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie on Today that he has “grown as a person over the years.”
“I definitely feel like I’m a much more changed person than I was when I was younger. I’m proud of who I am today,” he added.
In an interview with the PBS NewsHour, Brennan described his behavior as “flippant.” ”
“White could have dealt with in a much more mature manner and spent time answering the question, as opposed to being shielded and guarded from that,” she said. “So I think it was a missed opportunity.”
Why it matters
In the runup to the Winter Olympics, White has been celebrated as the star of the U.S. delegation, earning near-universal praise from announcers and starring in commercials that call him “the best of U.S.” Josh Levin wrote in Slate that Team USA and NBC have failed to recognize the complicated nature of White’s “road to redemption” by treating him like a champion seeking a third gold medal, and ignoring sexual harassment allegations.
NBC has also drawn criticism for not asking or pressing White on the issue, before or after his Olympic performance. The network has also not answered questions from several media outlets about it.
This year’s Winter Games come on the heels of massive sentencing hearings for former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, who has been convicted of sexually abusing athletes under his care, at Olympic facilities and at Michigan State University, for decades.
At a time in which women are more encouraged to speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault, Brennan says that White should not be given a pass just because of his Olympic accolades.
“You can marvel at Shawn White and be thrilled at what you saw,” she said. “But also be intrigued and interested about him and about the #metoo movement. You can have those two potentially conflicting thoughts.”
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