On the heels of his Olympic gold medal-winning run in South Korea on Wednesday, the snowboarder Shaun White was asked to contend with sexual harassment allegations that were leveled against him in 2016, immediately casting a shadow on the celebration.
White, 31, at first tried to minimize the claims when he was pressed by an ABC News reporter during a news conference after his victory on the men’s halfpipe.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” he said.
When asked if the claims could damage his reputation, White said: “I don’t think so. I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am.”
“My friends, you know, love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own,” he added.
The reporter tried to push the issue, but the event director, Nick Alexakos, put a stop to the questioning.
Shortly after, White made a guest appearance on the “Today” show and apologized for his word choice during the conference.
“I’m truly sorry that I used the word ‘gossip,'” he said. “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”
“I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience,” he said.
“I’ve grown as a person over the years,” he went on. “Every experience in my life, I feel like it’s taught me a lesson. And I definitely feel like I am a much more changed person than I was when I was younger.”
On Wednesday, in a statement to The New York Times, White said: “Representing Team USA at the Olympics in a sport that I love is a true honor, and I was thrilled to win gold. I regret my behavior of 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.”
In 2016, Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer of White’s rock band Bad Things, filed a lawsuit against him claiming that he had sexually harassed her and tried for years to “impose a strict regime” over her, asking her to cut her hair and to wear revealing clothing and underwear.
According to the suit, White made vulgar sexual remarks to her, sent her sexually explicit images of “engorged and erect penises” and forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos.
The suit, which refers to White as the “face of modern extreme sports,” also alleged breach of contract and wrongful termination from the band.
The lawsuit was settled in May 2017 for an undisclosed amount.
A person close to White said that White believed at the time the messages that he was exchanging with Zawaideh were consensual, and said that Zawaideh reciprocated.
A representative for Zawaideh said Friday that she was not available for comment.
The revelation of Zawaideh’s accusations against White, who has earned three Olympic gold medals in his career, comes amid the #MeToo movement, which has catalyzed women to share their stories of mistreatment with a goal of holding men in power accountable.