Why no at­ten­tion on Shaun White al­le­ga­tions?

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Chris­tine Bren­nan Colum­nist USA TO­DAY

GANGNE­UNG, South Korea – Shaun White is an Amer­i­can cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion, win­ning the third Olympic gold medal of his pi­o­neer­ing ca­reer Wed­nes­day at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics.

But while we glo­rify him as an al­lAmer­i­can ath­lete, con­sider this:

In Au­gust 2016, Lena Zawaideh, the drum­mer in his band Bad Things, filed an amended com­plaint to a civil suit in San Diego al­leg­ing White had sex­u­ally ha­rassed her, send­ing “sex­u­ally ex­plicit and graphic im­ages” to her, text mes­sages White later ad­mit­ted to send­ing.

In Fe­bru­ary 2017, White re­quested that the San Diego Su­pe­rior Court re­quire Zawaideh to un­dergo a men­tal health eval­u­a­tion, but three months later, White and Zawaideh reached an undis­closed set­tle­ment.

As White took his bows Wed­nes­day, ce­ment­ing his place in Olympic his­tory, I had a ques­tion: Why in the world aren’t we talk­ing about this? In the midst of the #MeToo move­ment, how has White some­how flown un­der the radar?

By Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, we started to get some an­swers. At a 13-minute U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee news con­fer­ence in which only male re­porters were called upon, de­spite at least two women hav­ing their hands up the en­tire time, White blithely swat­ted away the one ques­tion he re­ceived about the al­le­ga­tions.

“Hon­estly, I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gos­sip. I am who I am 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.”

(He went on the To­day show later Wed­nes­day and apol­o­gized for us­ing the word “gos­sip” to de­scribe sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions.)

Zawaideh’s al­le­ga­tions are in­cred­i­bly dis­turb­ing. White sent her im­ages of erect penises, forced her to watch sex­u­ally dis­turb­ing videos, in­clud­ing videos sex­u­al­iz­ing hu­man fe­cal mat­ter, and made vul­gar sex­ual re­marks about her re­la­tion­ship with her boyfriend, ac­cord­ing to the com­plaint, which Slate and Dead­spin brought re­newed at­ten­tion to on Wed­nes­day.

In one in­stance, Zawaideh says in the com­plaint, “White stuck his hands down his pants, ap­proached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face try­ing to make her smell them. As the fi­nancier of Bad Things, White used his role to im­pose a strict regime over Zawaideh, go­ing so far as to de­mand that she cut her hair, wear sex­u­ally re­veal­ing clothes and un­der­wear, and re­frain from wear­ing red lip­stick.”

The com­plaint al­leges that White’s be­hav­ior wors­ened af­ter he failed to win a medal in Sochi. He “be­came in­creas­ingly hos­tile and threat­en­ing, es­pe­cially to­ward Zawaideh. For ex­am­ple, on a few oc­ca­sions when the band was prac­tic­ing, White ges­tured that he was go­ing to back­hand Zawaideh. He yelled out un­called for re­marks such as, ‘I’ll f-ing slap you.’ Zawaideh was fear­ful that White would hit her due to his ir­ra­tional be­hav­ior at the time.”

While deny­ing the al­le­ga­tions, White ad­mit­ted to send­ing the text mes­sages that she in­cluded as ex­hibits in the law­suit. “Many years ago, I ex­changed texts with a friend who is now us­ing them to craft a bo­gus law­suit,” White said. “There is ab­so­lutely no co­in­ci­dence to the tim­ing of her claims, and we will de­fend them vig­or­ously in court.” Then he reached a set­tle­ment. These al­le­ga­tions against White are aw­ful. Why they have stayed in the back­ground un­til now, we’ll never know.

But they’re get­ting our at­ten­tion now, and it’s about time. If we’ve learned any­thing about the #MeToo move­ment, it’s that we should lis­ten to ev­ery al­le­ga­tion and go to great lengths to find out what hap­pened, even with an Olympic hero such as White.


Shaun White cel­e­brates win­ning gold in the men’s snow­board half­pipe for the third time in four Olympic Games.

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