Winter Olympics: Shaun White says he's 'grown and changed' since harassment suit

Shaun White's Olympic journey has, for the most part, been one of historic triumph, not only for the San Diego-born snowboarder but for Team USA, which earned its 100th Olympic gold medal of all time thanks to White's last-minute heroics on Tuesday.

It has not, however, been without controversy.

Just this year, for example, amid White's jump from a brutal training accident to a perfect qualifying run at the Grand Prix, rivals claimed that halfpipe judges are biased for the U.S. standout. And yet such claims were all but inevitable because of White's enviable run of success, which began with a gold medal in the 2006 Winter Games and resurfaced in redemptive form this week in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

But then there are the sexual harassment claims.

While the 31-year-old Winter X Games star, whose signature red hair once draped down his back and accompanied his "Flying Tomato" nickname, earned high praise on NBC's broadcast for his return to gold this week, he was faced with questions of a 2016 lawsuit afterward.

First, in mirroring nationally televised coverage of his presence in Pyeongchang, White paid little mind to the talk

"You know, honestly, I'm hear to talk about the Olympics, not gossip," he said when asked whether two-year-old allegations by Lena Zawaideh, a former drummer in White's indie rock band, would tarnish his legacy. "I am who I am, and I'm proud of who I am, and my friends love me and vouch me, and I think that stands on its own."

The 2016 allegations, as Deadspin reported (warning: explicit content), claimed White sent Zawaideh sexually explicit texts and attempted to control her appearance. Despite deeming the claims "gossip" at his post-event press conference, the snowboarder at one point admitted to sending inappropriate messages and even reached a settlement with Zawaideh in May 2017.

And when given a chance to re-address the topic, which left Team USA and Olympics fans alike at odds in supporting the medalist's return to glory, White apologized for mischaracterizing the claims.

"I'm truly sorry that I chose the word 'gossip,'" he told "The Today Show." "It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today, and I'm just truly sorry. I was so overwhelmed with just wanting to talk about how amazing today was."

White also confronted the notion that he's completely ignored the allegations, which came two years after a 2014 Sochi Games performance in which he finished without a medal and entered an admitted "dark place," saying he's "grown as a person over the years," that every experience he's had has "taught me a lesson," and that he's "a much more changed person than I was when I was younger."

In a statement issued to The New York Times later in the day, White also acknowledged regrettable behavior from years prior:

"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."

As Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan points out, White has never lacked the right words at the right time, so his apologies, if anything, cement for his fans the idea that, outside of his Olympic stardom, White is just a normal guy who's made mistakes:

Nobody is better at projecting, and protecting, his image than White, who burst onto the national scene as a teenage snowboarding prodigy, won his first gold at 19 years old and had spent the dozen years since parlaying his fame into riches never before seen in snowboarding ... The narrative of normalcy he has tried to craft consistently ran into the reality that among his peers, he was actively disliked, partially because of the seriousness with which he takes competitions and also because of inherent jealousy over his talent and wealth.

And yet still, in the middle of an Olympic career like no other, there lies an asterisk -- warranted or not -- on the resume of an international icon. A reminder that society struggles to define when it's OK to stop vilifying someone for their past mistakes, even when that someone is a three-time gold medalist.

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