White apologizes for comments on sexual misconduct lawsuit

Shaun White, of the United States, celebrates winning gold after the men's halfpipe finals at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Shaun White, of the United States, jumps during the men's halfpipe finals at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Men's halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White, of the United States, speaks at a news conference at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Men's halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White, of the United States, speaks at a news conference at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Shaun White, of the United States, celebrates winning gold after the men's halfpipe finals at Phoenix Snow Park at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Shaun White apologized after dismissing the sexual misconduct allegations made against him in a 2016 lawsuit as "gossip" shortly after winning his third Olympic gold medal in the men's halfpipe.

White has been the world's dominant snowboarder for more than a decade, winning gold medals in 2006, 2010 and again this year, completing a comeback after finishing fourth in 2014.

As White was competing Wednesday, many on social media resurfaced the details from the lawsuit by a former drummer in White's rock band, Bad Things. Lena Zawaideh said White sexually harassed her and refused to pay her wages after he fired her. The lawsuit was settled in May for an undisclosed amount.

White was asked during a news conference if the allegations might tarnish his reputation.

"I'm here to talk about the Olympics, not gossip and stuff," he said. "I don't think so."

Reporters attempted to follow up about the lawsuit, but U.S. Snowboarding and Freeskiing event director Nick Alexakos shut them down.

White immediately left the stage following the news conference while reporters continued to question him.

"I have to get to the medal ceremony," he said while being ushered away by Alexakos.

White later said on NBC's "Today" show he used "a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject."

"I'm just truly sorry," he said. "I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was and share my experience."

White also said he's "grown as a person over the years" and is "proud of who I am today."

Zawaideh's attorney said in a statement Thursday the comments the snowboarder made at the news conference "directly impugn" Zawaideh's character. Lawrance Bohm from The Bohm Law Group said "Zawaideh believed that this matter was in the past" but "unfortunately, by his recent comments and conduct, Mr. White has minimized the problem of sexual harassment in this country."

Bohm said Zawaideh would not comment herself.

In the lawsuit , Zawaideh said White repeatedly sexually harassed her, forced her to watch pornography and told her how to get her hair cut.

The lawsuit included screengrabs of text messages allegedly sent by White asking about the haircut and suggesting she wear a provocative outfit.

The lawsuit said White grabbed Zawaideh's buttocks shortly after leaving a band practice and that he once shoved a bottle of vodka into her mouth and forced her to drink from it. It also said that "White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them." The lawsuit also said White tried to kiss Zawaideh at a Halloween party.

Bad Things signed with Warner Bros. Records in 2013. The group released a self-titled album in January 2014 and toured briefly.

Praise for White's performance in Pyeongchang caught backfire on social media at a time when #MeToo and other movements are calling for more accountability about harassment and abuse.

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Follow Jake Seiner on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jake_seiner

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More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org

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This story has been corrected to characterize the allegations in the lawsuit as sexual misconduct instead of sexual assault.

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