When one reporter finally asked him about the 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit brought about by a former bandmate, snowboarder Shaun White called the allegations "gossip," according to The Daily Beast. During a press conference following his 2018 Winter Olympics gold medal win on Feb. 13, White was confronted about the sexual misconduct claims — claims that Olympic reporters have largely avoided until now — by Matt Gutman, a correspondent for ABC News.
Gutman wasted no time with his question to White, asking the snowboarder, "Over the last couple of days, the sexual harassment allegations against you by Lena Zawaideh have resurfaced." White interrupted the reporter to correct his pronunciation of "Lena," which, after Gutman corrected, received a scoff from White. Gutman continued, "Are you concerned that they're going to tarnish your legacy?"
White, who appeared unsettled by the question, responded, "Um, you know, honestly, here to talk about the Olympics. Not, you know, gossip. So, um. But, uh, 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." The moderator of the press conference immediately chimed in, and backed up White by saying, "Absolutely."
Gutman tweeted about White's response shortly after the press conference concluded, and referred to a claim by Christine Brennan — a columnist for USA Today — who noted that "only male reporters were called upon" to ask White questions. Brennan, in a tweet of her own, thanked Gutman for bringing up the sexual harassment allegations against White, and stated, "What an embarrassment that U.S. Olympic Committee press conference was."
Another female reporter present at the press conference, ESPN's Julie Foudy, backed up Brennan's claim. "Interesting. Amy Robach of GMA and Christine Brennan of USA Today both had hands raised entire Shaun White press conference," Foudy tweeted. "Not one woman was called on for a question. There were about 8 questions allowed."
The allegations against White stem from 2016, when Lena Zawaideh — a female founding member of and drummer for White's band, Bad Things — sued the snowboarder for alleged sexual harassment. In May 2016, Zawaideh claimed that White allegedly "made inappropriate and sexually harassing and suggestive comments," according to TMZ.
In August 2016, TMZ reported additional details about Zawaideh's claims against White. The drummer alleges that White forced her to watch several sexually disturbing videos, sent her sexually explicit photos of "engorged and erect penises," and, after White put his hand down his pants, reportedly "stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them."
White, for his part, has denied Zawaideh's sexual harassment claims. The 31-year-old snowboarder did, however, admit to having sent Zawaideh explicit text messages over the course of the 7 years she was a member of Bad Things, but insisted that, because the two were friends at the time, her allegations were "bogus."
To date, NBC — the official network home of the 2018 Winter Olympics — has tweeted about White's win via their Olympic-dedicated handle more than a few times. Not one of those tweets references the allegations against White, instead focusing on the snowboarder's story of "redemption" following his lackluster performance at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.
After dismissing the allegations against him as "gossip" in response to Gutman's press conference question, White has since apologized. "I’m truly sorry that I chose the word 'gossip,'" White said during a Feb. 14 appearance on The Today Show. "It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”
Now that the allegations against White have resurfaced in a very public way, the pressure is undoubtedly on NBC to respond to the controversy. The network has yet to issue any sort of statement, but it's unlikely that they'll be able to continue ignoring the claims for much longer.