Friday, October 19News That Matters

After Graphic Sex Harassment Lawsuit Resurfaces, Shaun White Says: 'I Regret My Behavior'

Olympic snowboarder Shaun White on Wednesday issued his third comment in 24 hours about a 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit that was filed against him and later settled but which resurfaced in the public consciousness in the wake of his historic third gold medal win earlier that day.

“Representing Team USA at the Olympics in a sport that I love is a true honor, and I was thrilled to win gold,” White, 31, said in a statement to the New York Times. “I regret my behavior of many years ago and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable.”

“I have grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today,” White continued.

That statement followed two earlier public comments about the suit, which was initially filed in May 2016 by Lena Zawaideh, the former drummer in White’s band Bad Things, according to USA Today.

Zawaideh amended her suit in August of that year. It originally argued breach of contract, as she said she had not been paid her agreed-upon monthly fee, but  Zawaideh included new allegations of sexual harassment in the updated complaint, in part citing text messages between her and White.

White appears to have first been asked about the issue at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, following his first-place finish.

When a reporter questioned whether the allegations could cloud his legacy, White responded, “I’m here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip. But I don’t think so. I am who I am and I’m proud of who I am. And my friends love me and vouch for me, and I think that stands on its own.”

In an appearance hours later on NBC’s Today show which aired Wednesday morning stateside, White said he was “truly sorry” for the word “gossip” and added this:

“It’s a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today. I’m just truly sorry. I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience.”

In a followup answer to co-anchor Savannah Guthrie, White said: “I’ve grown as a person over the years. You’ve known me for a long time now. It’s crazy how life works and twists and turns and lessons learned. Every experience in my life, I feel like it’s taught me a lesson and 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.”

A rep for White has not responded to PEOPLE’s requests for further comment.

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In her amended suit, Zawaideh claimed White “repeatedly sexually harassed her and forced his authoritarian management style on her for over seven years,” and among other things allegedly sent her graphically sexual text messages, including images of penises, according to the Washington Post.

White was also accused of forcing “her to watch sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter,” and making “vulgar sexual remarks to her such as, ‘Don’t forget to suck his balls!’ when commenting on her boyfriend.”

“At one point, White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them,” the suit alleged. “As the financier of Bad Things, White used his role to impose a strict regime over Zawaideh, going so far as to demand that she cut her hair, wear sexually revealing clothes and underwear, and refrain from wearing red lipstick.”

The entire complaint, which includes screenshots of text messages, was made available online by Deadspin.

In contrast to this week’s statements of contrition, White initially vehemently denied Zawaideh’s allegations.

“Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit,” he reportedly said in a statement in 2016. “There is absolutely no coincidence to the timing of her claims, and we will defend them vigorously in court.”

He and Zawaideh, who has not publicly discussed the matter this week, eventually reached an undisclosed settlement in May 2017, according to the Post.