This post has been updated with a response from a lawyer for Lena Zawaideh.
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.
“Representing Team USA at the Olympics in a sport that I love is a true honor and I was thrilled to win Gold,” White said in a statement. “I regret my behavior many years ago and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable. I have grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today.”
White issued the statement Thursday morning in PyeongChang after his initial attempt to address the charges levied by Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in his rock band, was roundly criticized. At a news conference about five hours after he had 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.
“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.”
Lawrance Bohm, a lawyer for Zawaideh, fired back, telling USA Today: “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.”
Bohm continued: “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.”
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. The entire complaint was uploaded by Deadspin and available here.
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 at 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.”
Read more on Shaun White: