Shaun White’s controversial past has caught up with him in South Korea.
The snowboarding phenom was unwilling to talk about allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him in 2016 by Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer in White’s rock band, Bad Things.
He said as much when reporters in Pyeongchang brought up the claims at a press conference after White won his third Olympic gold medal in the men’s halfpipe, a dramatic comeback after failing to medal in the event in Sochi in 2014.
ABC correspondent Matt Gutman asked him if was concerned that the allegations would “tarnish” his reputation.
“You know, honestly, here to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip, so ... but I don’t think so,” he said.
“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.”
He later apologized for referring to the accusations as “gossip.”
Sports columnist Christine Brennan tweeted that no female journalist “was called upon even though several, including me, had their hand up the entire time.”
When reporters tried to follow up and ask more they were shut down by U.S. Snowboarding and Freeskiing event director Nick Alexakos, according to ABC News.
“I have to get to the medal ceremony,” White said as Alexakos ushered him away, ABC reported.
White has also apologized for dragging the U.S. flag after winning.
White’s comment made supporters of the #MeToo movement even more angry than they already were. They have been unhappy that White’s allegedly abusive past went largely unaddressed as he soaked up praise for his win.
It struck them as wrong and inappropriate at a time when people work to break the silence surrounding sexual harassment and abuse through #MeToo, Time’s Up and other campaigns.
Some felt White was given a pass because he can ride a snowboard well.
“As you cheer for @shaunwhite, consider these awful and graphic allegations of sexual harassment against him, including texts he admitted to sending,” Brennan tweeted, linking to her USA Today column that asked why so little attention was being paid to the allegations as White cemented his legacy.
Slate, which reported on the allegations before White competed, wanted to know: “Why isn’t NBC talking about the sexual harassment allegations against Shaun White?”
White has been king of snowboarding for more than a decade, winning gold medals in 2006 and 2010. When he began competing in South Korea, social media lit up with people talking about the details of the lawsuit Zawaideh filed against him in August 2016.
White’s lawyer reportedly once said the allegations lacked merit.
Zawaideh alleged that White “repeatedly sexually harassed her and forced his authoritarian management style on her for over seven years,” according to Time.
“White sent sexually explicit and graphic images to Zawaideh of engorged and erect penises, forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter, and made vulgar sexual remarks to her,” the lawsuit said.
She accused him of once grabbing her rear and shoving a bottle of vodka in her mouth, forcing “her to chug the vodka.”
The lawsuit also alleged that White “stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them.”
She produced screengrabs of text messages White allegedly sent to her about cutting her hair and suggesting she wear sexy clothing.
He later admitted to exchanging “texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit.”
The Associated Press reported that the lawsuit was settled in May 2017 for an undisclosed amount and without an admission of wrongdoing.
On NBC’s Today Show Wednesday, White called himself a “changed person.”
“I’ve grown as a person over the years,” he said. “I definitely feel like I’m a much more changed person than I was when I was younger. I’m proud of who I am today.”
He also apologized for dismissing the allegations as “gossip.”
“I’m truly sorry that I chose the word ‘gossip.’ It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today,” he said.
“I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience.”