While Celebrating His Olympic Gold, Shaun White Faces Sexual Misconduct Questions
MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: At the Olympics yesterday, what Shaun White did with his snowboard on the half-pipe was breathtaking - one flawless, death-defying spin high in the air followed by another. White won gold, his third gold medal - so plenty for his fans to cheer. And yet his celebratory press conference afterwards took an awkward #MeToo turn. There are allegations of sexual harassment against White and a lawsuit. All of that has resurfaced in the hours since White won his medal.
Let's turn now to two journalists covering the games in South Korea. Tara Sullivan of The Boston Globe, hi there.
TARA SULLIVAN: Hello there.
KELLY: And Mark Zeigler of The San Diego Union-Tribune, welcome to you, too.
MARK ZEIGLER: Glad to be here.
KELLY: Tara, let me start with you. I want you just to explain this performance that Shaun White pulled off to win gold. His coach, who is obviously not an unbiased observer here, but still - called it, the best half-pipe I've ever seen in the history of the sport.
SULLIVAN: The performance was - I mean, I think you used the word breathtaking. It was remarkable. Shaun was the last rider to go. The pressure was on. And the emotion when he hit the bottom of the pipe - they never know what the score is going to be. But you could tell as he let out this primal scream, you know, that he just believed he had just won the gold.
KELLY: Mark, for people who don't follow snowboarding closely, just - who is Shaun White? I mean, give us a little bit of a - just a - the nutshell of who this guy is.
ZEIGLER: Well, he's from San Diego. He grew up like many kids in San Diego - skateboarding, and then he transitioned into snowboarding. And his family realized he had a gift at a very, very young age. And he grew up as this prodigy. I mean, people - this isn't him just bursting onto the scene one year. I mean, people saw this when he was 7, and he signed an endorsement contract with Burton Snowboards. And so there's been a lot of pressure on him to deliver. And the remarkable part of this career is that he has delivered every single time except for once, and that was in Sochi four years ago. And what happened on the hill was as much redemption for that as anything else.
KELLY: So he has this epic day, does something even Shaun White has never done before. He wins the gold again. And this should be a day where he cements his legacy. He holds a press conference, at which reporters ask about his athletic feats but also this. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
MATT GUTMAN: ABC News - Shaun, over the past couple of days, the sexual harassment allegations against you by Lena Zawaideh have resurfaced.
SHAUN WHITE: Lena.
GUTMAN: Lena - are you concerned that they are going to tarnish your legacy?
WHITE: You know, honestly, I'm here to talk about the Olympics not, you know, gossip.
KELLY: You know, it's one of these jarring Olympics moments where - we all know that athletes aren't perfect, but you want to cheer when somebody wins gold for the U.S. You want to celebrate this incredible athletic achievement. Tara, you wrote a column about this talking about how this feels complicated now to cheer for this guy.
SULLIVAN: Well, sure, and that's kind of this, you know, post-Harvey Weinstein world. I mean, it's OK to be a little conflicted and disappointed, and it doesn't negate what he did in that half-pipe or his status as an athlete and what he's accomplished as an athlete. But as fans and observers, I don't think there's anything wrong with us feeling a little bit conflicted as well.
ZEIGLER: I've been around him all week. He's been really good here. He's been really self-effacing. He talked a lot about his struggles to come back. You know, he's a flawed character. He's had a public intoxication arrest and vandalism arrest in a Nashville hotel in 2012. This was the one thing he did not answer very well. And I agree. He probably should've handled it better. And now he's trying to walk it back a little bit. And so in the grand scheme of things, in the way he handled things all week, he was a perfect media subject until this question.
KELLY: Mark Zeigler of The San Diego Union-Tribune and Tara Sullivan of The Boston Globe both on the line there from Pyeongchang, South Korea - thanks so much to you both.
SULLIVAN: You're welcome.
SULLIVAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.