Shaun White dodges sexual harassment 'gossip' in evasive, truncated news conference

Henry Bushnell

Shaun White won his third Olympic gold medal Wednesday, and Team USA’s 100th in its Winter Olympic history. But there’s another Shaun White story that’s difficult to reconcile with the golden one.

It’s a story that can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. But White and a Team USA media rep did their best to do just that after “the Flying Tomato” threw down a legendary final run on the snowboard halfpipe.

At a news conference later in the day, White was asked about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in his band. (The suit was settled last year.) Specifically, White was asked whether he thought it would tarnish his legacy.

“You know, honestly, here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” he responded. “But I don’t think so. I am who I am. And I’m proud of who I am. My friends love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.”

[Jeff Passan column: Reconciling the allegations with Shaun White’s Olympic gold]

White has admitted to sending Zawaideh text messages with pictures of penises, but denied other allegations from the lawsuit.

The same reporter followed up on White’s answer: “So you’re saying the allegations against you are gossip?” he asked.

But the Team USA media rep, seemingly at White’s cue, shut down the second question, saying, “I think we’re here to talk about the gold medal and the amazing day we had today. Thank you. So if we don’t have another question, why don’t we go ahead and pass the mic.”

The reporter pressed again, arguing that the allegations should be addressed. This time, White chimed in again: “I feel like I addressed it.”

Shaun White speaks during a news conference at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. (Getty)
Shaun White speaks during a news conference at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. (Getty)

They moved on to the next question. That next question, though, was also going to be about the harassment lawsuit, so they moved on again. White took less than 10 questions, and roughly half of them were from the Team USA rep.

According to those in attendance, several female reporters, including USA Today’s Christine Brennan, had their hands raised to ask questions, but none were called on.

After the news conference was cut short, apparently because White had to go get his medal, Brennan tried to ask a question about the harassment allegations anyway, but was told White had to go.

Late Wednesday night in South Korea, White went on NBC’s TODAY Show to apologize for referring to the allegations as “gossip.”

“I’m truly sorry that I chose the word ‘gossip,'” he said. “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.

“I’m just truly sorry. I was so overwhelmed with wanting to talk about how amazing today was, and wanting to share my experience.”

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