The 2022 Winter Olympics are almost here and that means everyone needs to bone up on their winter U.S. athlete checklist. Let’s see here. Lindsey Vonn retired, so she’s gone. Mikaela Shiffrin isn’t the new Vonn, she’s substantially better and will probably win a gold or two. Fan favorite Chloe Kim also is the favorite to take home women’s snowboard halfpipe. Nathen Chen is the name all the figure skating fans will hear.
And then there’s Shaun White. He hasn’t qualified for the games yet due to an ankle injury and COVID, but even if he doesn’t qualify through competition, there are as many as three discretionary spots available, and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t receive one, according to The Associated Press. He’s been the face of U.S. men’s snowboarding for almost two decades and has said the 2022 Games would probably be his last, so wagering on him donning a red, white, and blue snowsuit is probably a good bet.
However, maybe he shouldn’t receive a lifetime achievement spot and a few farewell laps. Hell, even if he does qualify, perhaps he’s best left stateside. In 2017, White settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer of his (I’m assuming) shitty band Bad Things.
The suit alleged, “White sent sexually explicit and graphic images to Zawaideh of engorged and erect penises, forced her to watch sexually disturbing videos, including videos sexualizing human fecal matter, and made vulgar sexual remarks to her.”
Other details from the suit painted him as controlling and using his role as financier 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 — her own personal signature.”
White’s attorney has previously said the lawsuit lacked merit.
The lawsuit came up in the coverage leading up to the 2018 Olympics (with a boost from the #MeToo movement), and White was even asked about it at the Games. His response was that he was there “to talk about the Olympics, not, you know, gossip.”
He continued, “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.”
He apologized for using the word gossip, and not, you know, acting like a complete piece of shit.
“I regret my behavior of many years ago, and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable.” He added he has since “grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today.”
However, like the Today Show hosts in that clip, NBC continues to fawn over White. He’s the second person on their list of U.S. athletes to watch at the 2022 Winter Olympics, in addition to appearing on the Today Show to promote his “last run.” (At the time, Caroline Framke did a terrific breakdown on NBC’s laudatory/problematic coverage of Olympic athletes and the network’s symbiotic relationship to them.)
I’m not trying to repeat the news cycle and get him canceled because we should already be past this. The guy took a sabbatical from snowboarding for the past three years, comes back, gets seventh and eighth at a couple comps, messes up his ankle and will probably still get a place on the team because he’s Shaun White? Nah, I’m not here for that. He shouldn’t go to Beijing because there are two outcomes here, and both are shitty.
The most likely result is he’s a distraction while finishing off the podium because — other than NBC — people never forget, and Japan’s Ayumu Hirano and Yūto Totsuka, and Australia’s Scotty James are the favorites to medal. The less likely option is he miraculously takes home gold, NBC falls all over itself covering the story, and overtly proves that white male privilege is alive and well. Yes, I know it never died, but an American man literally named “White” getting a grand sendoff at the most important competition in his sport despite settling a sexual harassment lawsuit — and acting like a dick about it — is too much.
Overall, there aren’t a ton of household names at these Winter Olympics. Outside of X Games fans or people like me who spent the better part of the past decade working at a newspaper in a ski town, not many people are familiar with athletes like David Wise, Alex Ferreira, and Red Gerard who deserve a larger share of the Olympic spotlight, but it’s time they find out.