American snowboarder Shaun White won another Olympic gold medal in the halfpipe yesterday. The event was broadcast on NBC, and throughout the competition White was talked about as an American hero and champion. It wasn’t unexpected, as the media often equates skill with a ball, bat, or in this case a board, with being a good person, no matter how the athlete in question has actually lived his life.
In White’s case, that life includes a 2016 lawsuit in which a former bandmate named Lena Zawaideh accused him of sexual harassment, wrongful termination, wage nonpayment, and other labor code violations. The lawsuit included photos of dicks and other explicit sexual images that White sent to Zawaideh, and alleged that White fired her after she refused his demand to cut her hair. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount last year.
NBC hosts and announcers never brought up the suit during the broadcast, and the network’s official Olympics Twitter account spent the evening sending scores of fawning tweets about White. Reporters at the post-event attempted press conference attempted to correct for NBC’s omission by asking White about the suit; White answered one question by dismissing the lawsuit as “gossip,” and further attempts to ask about it were shut down by a handler.
In a later appearance on the Today Show, White faced two more questions about the suit from host Savannah Guthrie, who prefaced her second question by telling White that she “took no pleasure” in asking about it. White apologized for dismissing the allegations against him as “gossip” and then assured Guthrie that he has grown a lot a person:
After it was all said and done, White’s public reckoning with his past behavior amounted to an entire broadcast dedicated to his greatness, one post-event question that he easily brushed away, and two big fat softballs from a friendly Today Show host.
What’s happened to White during his Olympic comeback, or more accurately what hasn’t happened to him, is particularly instructive given recent backlashes against the #MeToo movement. As the misdeeds of famous men have been revealed, writers at prominent publications have argued that the movement has gone too far. The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan argued that the woman who detailed her experience with Aziz Ansari had possibly “destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.” The New York Times’ Bari Weiss warned that the movement was succumbing to “mob rule.”
If any of that is true, then it’s hard to understand how White has remained so unscathed. He entered these Olympics as an inspiring comeback story, became a champion, and will ride off into history with his legacy and sponsorship deals intact. He’s going to be totally fine.
Shaun White’s an American hero again. Mel Gibson is back to making movies. Aziz Ansari will probably have another book deal or Netflix special very soon. The only conclusion left to draw is that the alarmist arguments against the #MeToo movement aren’t about fairness at all, but instead about preserving a status quo where women learn to keep quiet about harassment.