On the heels of his Olympic gold-medal-winning run in South Korea on Wednesday, the snowboarder Shaun White was immediately asked about sexual harassment allegations that were leveled against him in 2016, casting a shadow on the celebration.
Mr. White, 31, at first tried to dismiss the claims as “gossip,” a word he later apologized for using. Hours later, he gave a statement to The New York Times, saying: “I regret my behavior of many years ago and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable.”
The “gossip” comment came up during a news conference Wednesday morning after his victory on the men’s halfpipe.
“I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip,” he said, when pressed by an ABC News reporter.
Asked if the claims could damage his reputation, Mr. White said: “I don’t think so. I am who I am, and I’m proud of who I am.”
“My friends, you know, love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own,” he added.
The reporter tried to push the issue, but the event director, Nick Alexakos, put a stop to the questioning.
Shortly after the news conference, Mr. White appeared on NBC’s “Today” show and apologized for his word choice.
“I’m truly sorry that I used the word ‘gossip,’” he said. “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.” He said he had been “overwhelmed” by his medal victory.
“I’ve grown as a person over the years,” he went on. “Every experience in my life, I feel like it’s taught me a lesson. And I definitely feel like I am a much more changed person than I was when I was younger.”
In his statement to The Times, he reiterated how proud he was about winning the gold, expressed regret for his past behavior and added, “I have grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today.”
In 2016, Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer of Mr. White’s rock band Bad Things, filed a lawsuit against him claiming that he had sexually harassed her and tried for years to “impose a strict regime” over her, asking her to cut her hair and to wear revealing clothing and underwear.
According to the suit, Mr. White made vulgar sexual remarks to her, sent her sexually explicit images of “engorged and erect penises” and forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos.
The suit, which refers to Mr. White as the “face of modern extreme sports,” also alleged breach of contract and wrongful termination from the band.
The lawsuit was settled in May 2017 for an undisclosed amount.
A person close to Mr. White said that Mr. White believed at the time the messages that he was exchanging with Ms. Zawaideh were consensual, and said that Ms. Zawaideh reciprocated.
Ms. Zawaideh’s lawyer, Lawrance Bohm, said in a statement late Wednesday that Ms. Zawaideh had believed this matter was in the past but that Mr. White’s recent remarks had “minimized the problem of sexual harassment in this country.”
“Mr. White’s comments, on the world stage, directly impugn the character of Ms. Zawaideh,” Mr. Bohm said in the statement. “No woman wants to be called a ‘gossip’ or a liar by the harasser. Minimizing sexual harassment maximizes the harm to Ms. Zawaideh. Hopefully, before our country declares someone ‘the best of the U.S.,’ there will be investigation and due diligence.”
The revelation of Ms. Zawaideh’s accusations against Mr. White, who has earned three Olympic gold medals in his career, comes amid the #MeToo movement, which has catalyzed women to share their stories of mistreatment with a goal of holding men in power accountable.
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