In 2016, Olympian Shaun White’s former bandmate Lena Zawaideh filed a lawsuit against him claiming breach of contract for lack of payment and for multiple incidents of sexual harassment. Although White and Zawaideh reached an undisclosed settlement, the suit has resurfaced in recent days during the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
What was supposed to be a celebratory moment for White, who had just made history as the first person to win three gold medals in the men’s halfpipe, became tense as reporters at a press conference asked him to address claims that he sent Zawaideh photos of erect penises, forced her to watch sexually explicit videos, touched her inappropriately, and threatened her physically. White dismissed the claims as “gossip,” which he later regretted, stating on the Today show, “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.”
But in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, that might not be enough. And should the public go sour on him, that could put his many sponsorships in jeopardy.
White is one of today’s richest Olympians, having reportedly amassed a fortune somewhere between $20 to $40 million through prize money, sponsorships, and endorsements. He has struck deals with Burton, Oakley, Target, HP, Beats by Dre, Red Bull, Playstation, Verizon, and more. NBC recently released an ad that all but deifies White, calling him “the best of U.S.”
It’s unlikely reporters will lose interest in the sexual harassment suit over the next several days. But will White’s corporate partners lose enthusiasm in him?