The men's half-pipe final was a nail-biter, as snowboard legend Shaun White didn't secure his gold medal finish until the final run of the day. But despite the elation following his record third Olympics win in the event, White sparked controversy by dragging the American flag over the snow-packed ground.
White was clearly emotional when his final score — a whopping 97.75 — was announced. Though he's won the gold medal in half-pipe twice before in 2006 and 2010, White placed fourth at the 2014 games in Sochi. This Winter Games represented a comeback for White and his fans, with a gold medal as the ultimate redemption prize.
So the outsized reaction from White — tossing his snowboard, kneeling with tears in his eyes — was perhaps unsurprising. What did shock some, at least on social media, was White's subsequent inattention to flag etiquette.
After being handed the American flag, White went to congratulate the second- and third-place finishers. During that time, White let the flag drag along the ground. Later, after unfurling the flag and hoisting it overhead, White again dropped it to the ground and let it trail around after him.
Many Twitter users were none too happy with that turn of events.
White has since apologized, saying at a news conference that he meant no disrespect, and he was "proud — very proud — to be a part of Team USA."
That might not be enough to quell the incensed reactions from many Twitter users, who were not willing to excuse White's perceived lack of flag respect on account of his over-the-top emotions.
But as is the predictable course of any Twitter tempest, plenty of users jumped to White's defense once the controversy really started rolling. They pointed out he was excited, noting that his flag faux pas was clearly unintentional; they also brought up the finer points of the flag code.
Section 8 of the U.S. code is entitled "Respect for flag," and outlines a number of guidelines for avoiding any inadvertent displays of unpatriotic behavior towards the American flag. Some of them are so commonly broken as to be laughable — for instance: "(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever."
It is from this section of the code that the stipulation against dragging the flag on the ground is found, stating "(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise."
Since other flag code infractions happen on a level best described as constant, there were plenty of Twitter users who objected to the outrage directed at White that they saw as overblown.
Twitter defenders of White also pointed out that when someone is thick in the throes of Olympic gold emotion, forgetting manners is an understandable possibility.
That White would not want or welcome a controversy over his flag etiquette marring a longed-for Olympic win goes without saying. But it's hardly the only scandal dogging the snowboarder at the 2018 Winter Games.
Largely because of the massive reach of social media, allegations against White of sexual harassment have come to light. (The mainstream media — and particularly the Olympics' host network NBC — have been largely silent on the issue.)
White has been accused by his former band mate, drummer Lena Zawaideh, of several instances of sexual harassment, including sexually explicit text messages. Zawaideh also alleges that White breached their contract by not paying her what they'd agreed upon. (White denies all the allegations, and labeled it a "bogus" lawsuit.) The two eventually settled out of court in 2016.
But with the #MeToo movement still fresh in the public memory, the story has been circulating online. White was even asked at a press conference following his gold medal run about the potential stain to his legacy posed by the allegations. The Olympian responded by saying he wasn't there to talk about "gossip."
A third Olympic gold medal for a pioneering snowboarder like Shaun White would usually be enough story on its own. But when you drag an American flag on the ground, odds are there will be plenty of negative press that follows — especially in the age of social media.