Shaun White has apologised after dismissing the sexual misconduct allegations made against him in a 2016 lawsuit as “gossip” shortly after winning his third Olympic gold medal in the men’s halfpipe.
White has been the world’s dominant snowboarder for more than a decade, winning gold medals in 2006, 2010 and again this year. Today’s victory was a significant comeback after finishing fourth in 2014.
As White was competing, many on social media resurfaced the details from the lawsuit by a former drummer in White’s rock band, Bad Things.
Lena Zawaideh said White sexually harassed her and refused to pay her wages after he fired her. The lawsuit was settled in May last year for an undisclosed amount.
White was asked during a news conference if the allegations might tarnish his reputation.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip and stuff,” he said. “I don’t think so.”
Reporters attempted to follow up about the lawsuit, but US Snowboarding and Freeskiing event director Nick Alexakos shut them down.
White immediately left the stage following the conference while reporters continued to question him.
“I have to get to the medal ceremony,” he said, while being ushered away by Mr Alexakos.
Praise for White’s performance in Pyeongchang caught fire on social media today at a time when #MeToo and other movements are calling for more accountability about harassment and abuse.
Actress Alyssa Milano – a key supporter of the #MeToo movement – was particularly vocal on social media. She tweeted this morning: “Woke up to this news! Here are some more words. Why isn’t NBC talking about Shaun White’s sexual harassment allegations?”
White later said on NBC’s Today Show he used “a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject”.
“I’m just truly sorry,” he said. “I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience.”
White also said he had “grown as a person over the years” and was “proud of who I am today”.
Phone calls and an email to Ms Zawaideh’s attorney from the lawsuit were not immediately returned.
In the lawsuit , Ms Zawaideh said White repeatedly sexually harassed her, forced her to watch pornography and told her how to get her hair cut.
The lawsuit included screengrabs of text messages allegedly sent by White asking about the haircut and suggesting she wear a provocative outfit.
The lawsuit also said White grabbed Ms Zawaideh’s buttocks shortly after leaving a band practice and that he once shoved a bottle of vodka into her mouth and forced her to drink from it. It also said “White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them”. The lawsuit also says White tried to kiss Ms Zawaideh at a Halloween party.
Bad Things signed with Warner Bros. Records in 2013. The rock group released a self-titled album in January 2014 and toured briefly.