After Graphic Sex Harassment Lawsuit Resurfaces, Shaun White Says: 'I Regret My Behavior'
"I regret my behavior of many years ago and am sorry that I made anyone — particularly someone I considered a friend — uncomfortable," White said
Olympic snowboarder Shaun White on Wednesday gave his third set of comments in 24 hours about a settled sexual harassment lawsuit against him that resurfaced in the public consciousness in the wake of his historic third gold medal win.
“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 PEOPLE. “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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
In a statement also on Wednesday to PEOPLE, Zawaideh’s attorney criticized White for his use of “gossip” to respond to her allegations.
“There are powerful forces at play which prevent Ms. Zawaideh from speaking about the allegations and ultimate outcome of the sexual harassment case,” read the statement from lawyer Lawrance Bohm. “Before Mr. White made his [‘gossip’] comment, Ms. Zawaideh believed that this matter was in the past, and she was happy to put the situation behind her so she can focus on her blossoming music career. Unfortunately, by his recent comments and conduct, Mr. White has minimized the problem of sexual harassment in this country.”
“Mr. White’s comments, on the world stage, directly impugn the character of Ms. Zawaideh,” Bohm’s statement continued. “No woman wants to be called a ‘gossip’ or a liar by the harasser. Minimizing sexual harassment maximizes the harm to Ms. Zawaideh. Hopefully, before our country declares someone ‘the best of the U.S.,’ there will be investigation and due diligence.”
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.