Shaun White doesn't want to talk about "gossip," like that sexual harassment lawsuit against him

“Honestly, here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip,” he said.

by Carter Sherman
Feb 14 2018, 7:05pm

Olympic snowboarder Shaun White has now earned three gold medals for his ability to twist and turn in the halfpipe. And he put that skill to good use on Tuesday, when he dodged a reporter’s questions about a lawsuit filed against him for sexual harassment.

White privately settled a lawsuit last year with his former bandmate, Lena Zawaideh, who alleged White had sexually harassed her for years and failed to pay her properly. At a press conference after White’s gold medal–winning run at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang on Tuesday, ABC reporter Matt Gutman asked White whether he was worried the allegations would tarnish his legacy.

“Honestly, here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip,” White replied. “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, so thank you.”

“So you’re saying that the allegations against you are ‘gossip'?” Gutman pressed White.

That’s when the press conference moderator leapt in: “I think we’re here to talk about the gold medal, and what an amazing day we had today. Thank you. So if you don’t have another question, why don’t we go ahead and pass the mic.”

Zawaideh’s lawsuit was originally filed in 2016 as a civil suit alleging White failed to pay her for her work in his band, Bad Things — in which she wrote songs, sang, and drummed — among other labor law violations. Just months later, she updated the suit to include detailed allegations of sexual harassment.

White once stuck his hands in his pants and tried to get Zawaideh to smell them, Zawaideh alleged in the lawsuit, and tried to kiss her on another occasion. He also called her vulgar names, criticized her appearance, and tried to make her dress sexier.

But since White financed Bad Things and paid Zawaideh’s wages, Zawaideh said she felt like she had no choice but to endure White’s alleged behavior for years.

“White sent sexually explicit and graphic images to Zawaideh of engorged and erect penises, forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter, and made vulgar sexual remarks to her, such as ‘Don’t forget to suck his balls!’ when commenting on her boyfriend,” according to the lawsuit.

White denied the harassment, though he admitted to sending Zawaideh sexually explicit texts. “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,” White said in a statement provided to Deadspin at the time.

Zawaideh and White ended up settling in May 2017, but the terms weren’t disclosed publicly. And White apologized on Wednesday for using the word “gossip” to describe her claims.

"I'm truly sorry that I chose the word 'gossip.' It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today," White told NBC’s "Today" show. "I'm just truly sorry. I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience, but yeah."

Cover image: USA's Shaun White with his gold medal after victory in the Men's Halfpipe Snowboard during the medal ceremony at the Medal Plaza during Day 5 of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, February 14, 2018. (Mike Egerton/PA)

This article originally appeared on VICE News US.

Shaun White
press conference