Inside Olympian Shaun Whites Disturbing Sexual-Harassment Case

Every two years, the Olympics manage to make our scary, disconnected world a little bit better, uniting audiences through awe and a shared desire to ogle IOC-approved hotties. Unlike most trending topics in 2018, the Olympics is feel-good through and through. Even the most jaded Americans will find themselves cheering on Chloe Kim, looking up clips of Mirai Nagasus historic triple axel, and developing an encyclopedic knowledge of the mens figure skating scoring system so as to best complain about the snubbing of Adam Rippon.

Amidst all of this patriotism and good cheer, its easy to elevate every Team USA member to god-like status. After all, these athletes can do things on ice, snow, and skates that the rest of us could only dream of doing on the ground. For a textbook example of an American Olympic athlete assuming mythic proportions, look no further than snowboarder Shaun White.

NBC promoted its Winter Olympics coverage with a Super Bowl ad devoted entirely to the two-time Olympic gold medalist. The ad highlights Whites single-minded purpose as he prepares for Pyeongchang. The Super Bowl spot concludes, Shaun White is the best of U.S. It makes sense that NBC would invest heavily in the Shaun White story; the only thing that makes a proven winner more compelling is a comeback, and White certainly has something to prove in the wake of scoring in fourth place at the Sochi Olympics in 2014. According to Slate, White is the star of NBCs Olympics show, and his victory, according to the network, would be one of the great triumphs of the Winter Games.

But just as a re-centering of womens voices and experiences has called various powerful men into question, an honest assessment of Team USA would tack an asterisk on to all of Shaun Whites promotional material. White, like many successful and celebrated men, has reached a settlement in a sexual harassment case. Disappointingly, NBC has entirely failed to mention these allegations in its Shaun White coverage. While it is clearly within NBCs interests to slalom around this potential scandal, its rather shocking that, according to Slate, No major news outlet mentioned the harassment suit between May 2017 and last week, when New York magazines the Cut released a video titled, Snowboarding Superstar Shaun White Was Accused of Sexual Harassment.

In 2016, Lena Zawaideh sued Shaun White, alleging sexual harassment, wrongful termination and nonpayment of wages, among other complaints. Zawaideh was the drummer and only female member of Shaun Whites rock band, Bad Things, for seven years. According to USA Today, Zawaideh initially sued for breach of contract in May, but by August her lawyers had filed an extensive new complaint seeking both punitive and compensatory damages. That complaint alleged that White repeatedly sexually harassed [Zawaideh] and forced his authoritarian management style on her for over seven years.

According to the suit, 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 such as, Dont forget to suck his balls! when commenting on her boyfriend. At one point, White stuck his hands down his pants, approached Zawaideh, and stuck his hands in her face trying to make her smell them. The offending texts sent by White also included arguably racist, explicit images of black men. The complaint further alleged that an intoxicated White attempted to kiss Zawaideh at a Halloween party in October 2010; Another time, White put his buttocks directly in Zawaidehs face. Still another time, White grabbed Zawaidehs buttocks shortly after leaving practice for the day.

The filing additionally stated that, As the financier of Bad Things, White used his role to imposed 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 lipstickher own personal signature.

Images of the texts that White allegedly sent Zawaideh were included as exhibits in her new complaint. One of the explicit texts is a pornographic image paired with an exhortation to be a team player. Another text from Shaun reads, I need u to go out in the morning and have your hair cut in a new style at shoulder or above but keep your bangs. This is really important to me. When Zawaideh responds that shes confident and happy with her long hair and not willing to cut it, he replies, Thats disappointingare u sure this is the decision u want to make later clarifying, your decision to not do what Im asking.

According to the complaint, this exchange occurred the night before Bad Things last show of their 2014 tour. At the end of the tour, Zawaideh went home with the assumption that she was still a member of the band. After not hearing from White for some time, Zawaideh was informed by another Bad Things member that the band continued to rehearse and perform without her, according to the suit. Zawaideh was later informed by the bands new manager that White decided to part ways with her. In the complaint, she alleged that she never received any of her contractual payments for 2014.

Zawaideh also claimed that, during their regular band practices, White consistently acted inappropriately.

The complaint continued, White would constantly refer to Zawaideh as bitch and show her sexually explicit images and videos. For example, at one point,WhiteyelledouttoZawaideh, Hey, have you seen this video?! White then proceeded toshow Zawaideh the Shake That Bear video on his computer. Shake That Bear is a disturbing video of a couple killing a bear and then having sex on top of it.Another time, White called Zawaideh over and forced her to watch Church of Fudge. Church of Fudge is a video where the viewer is subjected to hardcore porn involving a priest, anun and fecal matter. This behavior made Zawaideh feel extremely uncomfortable. However, Zawaideh would acquiesce because she did not want to cause problems in the band or be terminated. Zawaideh was only seventeen or eighteen years old at the time. White was twenty-two or twenty-three years old.

Other anecdotes from the complaint alleged threatening behavior. Around March 2014, after failing to win a medal at the Olympics, the suit claimed that White became increasingly hostile: For example, on a few occasions when the band was practicing, White gestured that he wasgoing to backhand Zawaideh. He yelled out uncalled for remarks such as, Ill fucking slap you.Zawaideh was fearful that White would hit her.

In response to Zawaidehs allegations, White confessed to sending the texts and issued the following statement through his attorney: Many years ago, I exchanged texts with a friend who is now using them to craft a bogus lawsuit. There is absolutely no coincidence to the timing of her claims, and we will defend them vigorously in court."

Zawaideh issued her own statement, insisting, I am pursuing this case because women should not have to tolerate harassment at work. Shaun White should not be allowed to do whatever he wants just because he is famous. Although I am embarrassed to have been treated this way, I cannot sit by and watch him do this to other women.

According to USA Today, the snowboarder vigorously contested the suit and requested that Zawaideh undergo a mental health examination in response to her claims of emotional and mental distress. White later withdrew that request, and in May 2017 it was reported that White and Zawaideh had reached an undisclosed settlement.

Less than a year later, is Shaun White really the best of the U.S.?

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Aly Raisman sues U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for lack of action against Nassar

Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman files lawsuit over Larry Nassar abuse.
Image: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DirecTV

Aly Raisman, Olympic gold medalist and role model empowering women to speak out against harassment, is suing the United States Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for lack of action taken against former team physician Larry Nassar.

After Raisman and more than 100 women spoke out and filed civil actions against Nassar, saying he had continually sexually assaulted them during treatment sessions over the years, he was sentenced to 40-to-175 years in prison for seven charges and 40-to-125 years for three additional charges. But in the months leading up to Nassar’s sentencing, Raisman called out the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics for not doing more to stop the physician from harming people.

The gymnast is now suing the two organizations, alleging they should have taken more action to prevent the abuse and conducted a thorough investigation, NBC News reported.

The lawsuit, filed in California, alleges that both U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics had knowledge of Nassar’s history of past sexual abuse against minors but let the mandatory treatment of her and many other young women take place for years.

Despite the organizations being notified of his behavior, Raisman said Nassar was never punished and no one with the direct power to do so intervened in the situation. In fact, the lawsuit claims that when Maggie Nichols, a national team member, reported the abuse to USA Gymnastics in 2015, the organization took more than a month to alert the FBI. The document also claims that USA Gymnastics did not alert Michigan State University, where Nassar was also practicing medicine, of the situation at the time.

“After all this time, they remain unwilling to conduct a full investigation, and without a solid understanding of how this happened, it is delusional to think sufficient changes can be implemented,” Raisman said in a statement to NBC News. “I refuse to wait any longer for these organizations to do the right thing. It is my hope that the legal process will hold them accountable and enable the change that is so desperately needed.”

Raisman also said she still experiences depression, anxiety, and fear to this day as a result of Nassar’s abuse.

The lawsuit comes weeks after the USA Gymnastics board resigned amid the scandal. U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun’s resignation was also announced on Feb. 28, citing health issues, and the committee is launching a new set of guidelines to ensure athletes are protected in the future.

In addition to the two sentences for sexual assault charges, Nassar was also sentenced to 60 years in prison for child pornography crimes. Ultimately, Nassar got what amounts to a life sentence. As part of a plea deal, Nassar agreed to listen to victim impact statements from women and girls who reported abuse. More than 250 told their stories during sentencing hearings in two Michigan counties.

You can read Raisman’s full lawsuit against the USOC and USA Gymnastics here.

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