As we reported last night, Shaun White nabbed his third career Olympic gold medal with a near-flawless performance in the last run of the men's halfpipe final, snatching the top spot out of the hands of 19-year-old Japanese wunderkind Ayumu Hirano in dramatic fashion.
And while White's performance has dominated the Olympic headlines over the past 24 hours, his life off the slopes is also drawing the attention of some media members–which led to a fairly tense exchange during White's post-competition press conference.
Matt Gutman of ABC News brought up the sexual harassment lawsuit White faced in 2016 from former bandmate Lena Zaweidah–a lawsuit which he settled in 2017 out of court–while the 31-year-old snowboarder was answering questions from the press. White dismissed the allegations as "gossip" (a phrase he later apologized for) and a representative of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard parried away follow-up questions on the topic by saying the three-time gold medalist would only be answering questions pertaining to his performance.
That sequence–particularly in the light of recent societal movements like the #MeToo movement–has now drawn the ire of media outlets who don't often dip their toes into the world of action sports.
In an article titled, "Why Isn’t NBC Talking About the Sexual Harassment Allegations Against Shaun White?" on Slate.com, author Josh Levin noted that between May 2017 and last week, there had been virtually no mention of White's harassment lawsuit by mainstream media. Levin also points out that NBC–who owns the broadcasting rights for the Olympics (and who were recently embroiled in their own major sexual harassment controversy)–has actively ignored questions pertaining to the lawsuit.
"When we talk and write and think about athletes, our awe at their ability often overwhelms all other considerations. Perhaps that’s why the sports world has thus far been slow to embrace, or to feel the repercussions of, the #MeToo movement," Levin wrote. "It’s possible White is a sexual harasser. It’s also possible he was wrongly accused. It’s almost a certainty NBC won’t invest the time and energy to find out."
And Slate wasn't alone in its critique. Deadspin and USA Today also published criticisms over how the media has handled–or ignored–the allegations White faced (USA Today also noted no female journalists were called upon during the aforementioned 13-minute press conference).
In the end, given the fact that the lawsuit was settled out-of-court, there's no real way for anyone to know what happened between White and Zaweidah. But, if nothing else, Chrstine Brennan of USA Today makes a salient point in how she concludes her review of the allegations.
"[The] allegations against White are awful. Why they have stayed in the background until now, we’ll never know," Brennan writes. "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."