You’ve definitely heard of Shaun White, the U.S. snowboarder making his triumphant return to the Olympic Games following a disappointing fourth-place finish at the Sochi Games in 2014. You can’t miss him — he’s the undisputed star of NBC’s round-the-clock Olympics coverage. But you probably don’t know that the same Shaun White faced sexual harassment allegations back in 2016 — because no one’s really talking about it.
A few years back, White was the lead guitarist in a band called Bad Things, playing alongside drummer Lena Zawaideh. After seven years with the band, Zawaideh left in 2014, and two years later, she filed a lawsuit alleging that White had not only failed to pay her promised wages but also sent her sexually explicit text messages and behaved inappropriately in person.
At the time, TMZ reported that White had allegedly sent his bandmate images of “engorged and erect penises” and showed her gross, disturbing videos, including one “sexualizing human fecal matter.” He also allegedly became hostile after his loss at the Sochi Games, threatening Zawaideh and harassing her at rehearsals.
According to Zawaideh’s lawsuit, “As the financier of Bad Things, White used his role to imposed 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 — her own personal signature.”
In a statement in 2016, Zawaideh said,
White denied the allegations, saying the texts were between friends.
“Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit. There is absolutely no coincidence to the timing of her claims, and we will defend them vigorously in court.”
The two reached an undisclosed settlement in 2017, and White was immediately restored as Olympic darling, appearing in an NBC ad during the Super Bowl this year under the headline, “Shaun White is the best of U.S.”
At a moment when women’s voices and stories of sexual abuse are center stage, it’s curious that NBC has chosen White as its Olympics poster child without any mention of the allegations he recently faced.
Would it be bad for business to talk about the lawsuit? Sure — White’s post-Sochi comeback story is even more attractive than the story of a 17-year-old girl, the daughter of immigrant parents from South Korea, triumphing in the snowboard halfpipe competition (hi, Chloe Kim).
But is what’s “good for business” really what the Olympics stand for? It might be time for NBC to reevaluate.