Opinion: The curious case of Shaun White vs. #MeToo

Feb 14, 2018, 3:32 PM | Updated: 4:24 pm

Men's halfpipe gold medalist Shaun White, of the United States, speaks at a news conference at the ...

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)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

It’s almost uniquely American: We cheer the underdogs, celebrate comeback stories, marvel at our new champion’s success and the take glee in their downfall.

This was blindingly clear in the case of gold medal-winning Olympic snowboarder Shaun White.

Over the past few weeks, NBC has been hyping White’s return to the Olympics and his quest for a gold medal hat trick.

Super Bowl commercials were followed by sappy vignettes fawning all over the snowboarding megastar’s training regimens to eating habits.

And then the big moment, Tuesday night’s men’s halfpipe competition. All eyes were on the Flying Tomato. All other competitors were simply billed as potential spoilers.

White did not disappoint. He dominated. He lived up to every bit of the hype, proving once and for all, that he is simply the best the world has seen on a snowboard.

Our nation celebrated in unison as social media exploded with praise and congratulations for an overjoyed and tearful White.

And then, the press conference.

It didn’t seem odd at first that there were no questions from female reporters. That is, until White was asked about sexual harassment allegations and his legacy.

The scratch of the record player and subsequent silence was deafening.

#MeToo had made its Olympic debut and it couldn’t have picked a worse time.

The world gasped as it learned that their newest hero might not be a hero at all.

As endorsers we’re lining up to rain cash on the resurrected star, disaster struck on a global stage.

The accusations stem from a 2016 complaint filed in San Diego by a former bandmate, Lena Zawaideh, and they are downright serious!

The newly minted King of the Halfpipe simply brushed the accusations off as “gossip” and claimed that his friends love him and vouch for him.

Not the best of moves, but can you blame the guy? He was in the middle of his greatest victory lap and a skeleton jumped out of his closet and sucker-punched him.

His handler quickly jumped in to refocus the questioning back to the gold medal.

So why is this bad for the #MeToo movement? It seems to have pounced at the perfect time, claiming another high-profile victim.

Well, that high-profile victim, at that moment, was residing in the hearts of every American. These very serious accusations were met with a collection of eye rolls and head scratches.

These accusations are from two years ago but that doesn’t make them any less serious. It begs the question as to why the United State Olympic Committee and NBC turn a blind eye to this?

It’s public record.

More importantly, where have all of the #MeToo warriors been? Were they waiting in the shadows for their time to pounce? Were the accusations not serious enough two years ago when White was not headline news?

The timing is a bad look for #MeToo. It belittles the claims of those that have felt empowered by this movement to come forward and tell their story. It shows them that, unless their attacker or harasser currently is in the headlines, there’s no reason to come forward.

For NBC’s part, Wednesday morning coverage was all about their new golden boy.. When asked about the allegations on “Today,” the interviewers let White off the hook with a simple excuse of being younger and less wise at the time.

White deserves his day in court — if it comes. He has already cut his accuser a check.

I stand by my claim that the #MeToo movement has come to a point where careers and lives are ruined by accusation alone. Only time will tell, as I hope that we take each of these accusations case by case, giving each of the accused their day in court.

But make no mistake, those potential advertisers that were lining up to have White pitch their brand will instead be sitting a few plays out. That will cost the Flying Tomato a lot of green.

Michael Russell

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Opinion: The curious case of Shaun White vs. #MeToo