In front of an adoring and cheering crowd, Shaun White threw his snowboard up in the air, let out a scream and ran to hug his coach and family.
He had just won the gold medal in the halfpipe and was immediately hailed as an American hero and a role model for the next generation. With an array of emotion blasted both on his face and the faces of the crowd, it was evident that his win in the men’s halfpipe meant a lot to both White and his fanbase.
But White is no role model of mine. In my opinion, he should have never been allowed to compete at this Olympics at all, as either the United States of America Snowboard and Skiing Association or the United States Olympic Committee should have stepped in at some point.
Two years ago, he was accused of sexual misconduct by Lena Zawaideh, the drummer in his band. According to a USA Today article, Zawaideh alleges that White sent her “sexually explicit and graphic images,” which White admitted to doing. In May 2017, they reached an undisclosed agreement. He did not receive a suspension from the International Olympic Committee, nor any punishment outside of the agreement.
To make matters worse, during a news conference following his win, he called the allegations “gossip,” discrediting the victim altogether. There was not one female journalist called on during the 13-minute news conference, even though multiple women had their hands up for the entire time.
To me, this is not someone we should be honoring. This is someone we should be condemning, not giving a free pass to because he is good at sports and was able to shine when the pressure was the biggest.
White isn’t the first sports star to be hailed a hero despite a troubling past, and he won’t be the last. American culture idolizes sports stars and puts them on a pedestal, so much so that they are essentially godlike figures in the eyes of their adoring fans. When someone does something wrong, especially when it comes to sexual assault, the tendency is either to blame the victim or blame the media for stating the facts.
That’s exactly what happened in this case, and it’s time for that to change.
If he had been given a punishment by the United States Olympic Committee or World Snowboarding Federation, served his time, apologized and not called the allegations gossip, then maybe I could forgive him. But until he gets to that point on his own, White’s reputation needs to be altered to reflect the bad that he has done.