Shaun White’s first-place win on February 13th was television gold. The 31-year-old snowboarder made his long-awaited comeback, and afterwards launched himself into his loved ones’ arms with tears welling in his eyes — the kind of Olympic narrative that news outlets love.
In case you’re just catching up, White played guitar for many years with his band Bad Things. In 2016, two years after leaving the band, drummer Lena Zawaideh filed a lawsuit alleging that White withheld wages from her, forced her to watch disturbing videos, and sexually harassed her at rehearsals, among other things. According to her lawsuit, White also demanded that she cut her hair and “wear sexually revealing clothing and underwear.” The suit was settled in May 2017.
Many on social media pointed out that outlets covering the Olympics seemed all too ready to forgive and forget these allegations — allegations that don’t fit in too well with the poetic victory story. However, one reporter did finally bring up the issue, asking White if he thought the claims might tarnish his reputation after his win.
White has since apologized for the comment, telling Today’s Savannah Guthrie,
But when Guthrie then asked if he wanted to speak further about the allegations, White offered a vague response: “I’ve grown as a person over the years. Every experience in my life I feel like it’s taught me a lesson. I definitely feel I’m a much more changed person than I was when I was younger and I’m proud of who I am today.” (Aka he completely side-swept the question and claims made against him).
While none of us can know for sure what happened between Zawaideh and White, we’re glad that so many people called the athlete out on the word he chose to reference the case. Women’s claims of assault and harassment are all-too-often minimized and discredited by dismissive language, and it needs to stop.