The ugly story of Shaun White’s sexual-harassment lawsuit and trying to reconcile it with his Olympic gold
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – They grabbed, pawed, frothed, hopeful he might deign to make eye contact or maybe even snap a selfie. For nearly two hours following his Olympic gold medal-winning run in snowboard halfpipe, Shaun White, in the midst of television appearances and radio hits, never ignored the cadre of fans who stayed to pay homage for too long. Every few minutes, he acknowledged them, and they roared back. Eventually he veered toward those who braved the frigid air. The reaching arms almost swallowed him. Personal space does not exist in cults of personality.
Halfway across the world, those who don’t deify White struggled to reconcile what he’d done Wednesday morning – throw arguably the greatest run in halfpipe snowboarding history – with what he’d allegedly done in previous years. The 100th Winter Olympics gold medalist in American history – according to a lawsuit by Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in his band, that White later settled – texted her pictures of penises. He showed her video of a couple having sex on top of a bear that the man had shot dead and another “hardcore porn” video involved a priest, a nun and feces when she was 17 or 18 years old. He allegedly forced her to drink vodka. He insisted she change her look and wardrobe, once threatening to send her home because he didn’t like a fleece sweater she had worn. He stuck his hands down his pants, then shoved them in her face to smell them, the lawsuit alleged.
“After losing at the Olympics [in 2014],” the lawsuit said, “White became increasingly hostile and threatening, especially toward Zawaideh.”
White, who admitted to sending the texts but denied other allegations, has acknowledged being in a dark place following his fourth-place finish in the Sochi Games and cast his gold medal in PyeongChang, the third of his Olympic career, as the denouement of a redemptive arc. White refused to address questions about the lawsuit, calling it “gossip.” “I am who I am,” he said. “And I’m proud of who I am. And my friends love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.”