Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

After winning gold medal, Shaun White faces questions about 2016 sexual harassment suit

Shaun White of the U.S. celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s halfpipe final of the 2018 Winter Olympics at Phoenix Park in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 14, 2018. Chang W. Lee/Copyright 2018 The New York Times

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea - As Shaun White celebrated his third Olympic halfpipe title, much of the vast, unwieldy social media universe celebrated. They remembered the 31-year-old as a younger man, winning gold in at the 2006 Olympics and again in 2010, and they remembered his disappointing fourth-place finish four years ago at the Sochi Olympics.

Many others remembered what happened between Sochi and these Pyeongchang Olympics, which included allegations of sexual harassment and a lawsuit that White faced in 2016.

White, who called the charges "bogus" at the time, reached an undisclosed settlement and the case was dropped, but for many, his high-profile snowboarding victory came cast against the backdrop of #MeToo and a wide-reaching national dialogue about sexual harassment and assault. At a news conference in PyeongChang, about five hours after he'd landed what many have hailed as one of the best halfpipe runs the sport has seen, White was asked to address the two-year old allegations. Matt Gutman of ABC News raised the question, asking about charges levied by Lena Zawaideh, who was the former drummer in his rock band.

"Shaun, over the past couple of days, the sexual harassment allegations against you by Lena have resurfaced," Gutman said, at which point White interjected to correct the pronunciation of her name.

"Are you concerned that they're going to tarnish your legacy?" the reporter continued.

"You know, honestly, here to talk about the Olympics," White said, "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. I think that stands on its own."

"So you're saying the allegations against you are gossip?" Gutman asked.

That's when Nick Alexakos, a spokesman for the U.S. snowboarding team who was running the news conference, jumped in. "I think we're here to talk about the gold medal and the amazing day we had today," he said. "Thank you. So if you don't have another question, why don't we go ahead and pass the mic?"

"I'd like it to be addressed just a little bit," Gutman said.

Alexakos started to respond, but White leaned into the microphone.

"I feel like I addressed it," he said.

White later appeared on NBC's "Today Show" and apologized for dismissing the charges against him as "gossip."

"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."

Zawaideh played in White's band Bad Things, which released an album and played shows before the Sochi Olympics. She filed her lawsuit in May 2016.

In her complaint, she claimed White "repeatedly sexually harassed her and forced his authoritarian management style on her for over seven years." Among the specific incidents cited, Zawaideh said White tried to kiss her a party, and sent inappropriate text messages, including photos that featured "engorged and erect penises."

"Shaun took some kind of joy in seeing how much he could break me down and mess with me. I don't know why, but every time he saw that I was uncomfortable with something, he would just keep going just to be like, 'Can I break her?'" Zawaideh told Page Six at the time. "That's not acceptable for an employee, which I was. Contractually."

In February 2017, White asked the court to compel Zawaideh to undergo a mental health evaluation, but then in May of that year, the snowboarder and his former bandmate reached a settlement. Terms were not disclosed.

When the lawsuit was initially filed, White issued a statement, saying: "Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit."

Author Information: Rick Maese is a sports features writer for The Washington Post.