Snowboarder Shaun White nabbed the third gold medal of his 12-year Olympic career in PyeongChang Tuesday, but amid the cheers and tears of joy, there was no mention on NBC, the network covering the games, of the sexual harassment suit he settled last April. Furthermore, when the International Ski Federation, the body that governs snowboarding, held a press conference about White's medal win, the moderator skipped over female journalists with questions, USA Today reporter Christine Brennan, who had her hand raised, told CNN.
While Brennan and ABC’s Amy Robach were passed over, one male reporter, Matt Gutman (from ABC), slipped one in about the sexual harassment suit and asked if it would “tarnish” White’s legacy. The decorated snowboarder responded flippantly, saying, "You know, honestly, I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip, but I don't think so. I am who I am, and I'm proud of who I am, and my friends, you know, love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own."
Gutman attempted a follow-up question, but White said he felt he’d answered the question, and the moderator reportedly moved on before any questioning got to the gritty details of the allegations in the suit against the Olympian.
The suit, filed in San Diego by Lena Zawaideh, former drummer of White’s band Bad Things, alleged that he made repeated vulgar remarks to her, forced her to watch “sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter,” and texted “sexually explicit and graphic images” of erect penises, which White later admitted to sending, according to USA Today.
The complaint Zawaideh filed also alleged that “White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them. As the financier of Bad Things, White used his role to impose a strict regime over Zawaideh, going so far as to demand that she cut her hair, wear sexually revealing clothes and underwear, and refrain from wearing red lipstick.”
At a time when sexual harassers and abusers are being held accountable like never before, White course-corrected and apologized on Today for using the word “gossip” to describe the allegations that were made against him.
I "was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience,” White said of sloughing off the question about harassment. "I've grown as a person over the years. It's amazing how life works and twists and turns and lessons learned. Every experience in my life I feel like it's taught me a lesson. I definitely feel like I am a much more changed person than I was when I was younger. I am proud of who I am today."
What White failed to mention while he was focused on discussing his accomplishments and how proud he is of the person he’d been given the opportunity to become is that he attempted to silence his accuser in 2016, suggesting she undergo a mental health examination when she admitted to suffering emotional stress because of what he’d allegedly done. He later withdrew the request, according to USA Today.
As White attempts to focus on his accomplishments and the International Ski Federation turns away reporters, a growing number of voices on social media are calling for NBC and other outlets to not gloss over and avoid the horrific details in the suit against him.