9 Reasons Shaun White Divides Opinions
The Flying Tomato faces his critics as he prepares for a half pipe hat trick
Shaun White is the most decorated snowboarder in history. He’s dominated snowboarding at the X Games for the decade, amassing 13 gold medals, 3 silver and 2 bronze in slopestyle and superpipe. He’s also a double Olympic champion, taking home gold at Vancouver 2010 and Turin 2006. He’s now aiming at his third consecutive halfpipe title at Sochi 2014.
But clearly White divides opinions – on the one hand he’s best competitive snowboarder ever, on the other he’s portrayed as pathologically driven – something that flies in opposition to the culture of snowboarding – and his celebrity persona seems out of kilter with the rest of the snowboarding community. So here are nine reasons Shaun White divides opinions.[part title="He Pulled Out Of Slopestyle at the Sochi Olympics"]
Shaun W pulls out of slopestyle, did the ultimate competitor realise he couldn't win and quit? Someone in the US will be livid missing out.
— Ed Leigh (@SnowEdLeigh) February 5, 2014
Citing injury, a dangerous course and that he wanted to focus on the halfpipe — where he is trying for a third consecutive gold medal — White pulled out of the first ever Slopestyle only days before the event. Many people, including his fellow competitors, went on record as saying he had only pulled out as he feared he wouldn’t be able to compete to their standard.
Others argued that the course was indeed dangerous and that White was right not to jeopardise his chance at making history in the Pipe. Again, snowboarders raged over whether he was right or wrong. Either way, again, he was at the very centre of attention.[part title="He Was In the Olympics in The First Place"]
There’s many a fan out there who think snowboarding shouldn’t even be in the Olympics, citing the fact it is run by the FIS, the international skiing federation, which has no real long-term interest in the future of snowboarding.
Terje Haakonsen famously boycotted the Olympics in 1998, and recently told Whitelines, "They gave FIS, a ski federation, control of snowboarding, totally for commercial reasons. We all know that. And today they act as if they invented snowboarding, invented slopestyle. There’s just no respect for the history and culture of snowboarding at all. We don’t need FIS or the IOC. We can handle snowboarding ourselves."
White, on the other hand, as with all the other competitors, simply believes it was a chance to show snowboarding, and his talents, to the wider world and that the politics are irrelevant.[part title="He's Rich"]
Recently photographed wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase whilst snowboarding, Shaun White makes no apology for making an obscene amount out of money out of snowboarding. He has a reported net worth of $20 million, and currently earns a reported $2 million per endorsement deal with non-core brands such as Target and Hewlett Packard.
Core fans say he best represents the gross commercialisation of the sport. Others say 'why shouldn’t his talent be rewarded?' Either way, he still flies in private jets.[part title="He's Ginger"]
We are not sure why this should be a divisive factor either way, although the prejudice against gingers is perhaps the last acceptable face of racism. Some people simply like gingers and their fiery pubic nether regions, others can’t seem to stand the sight of an auburn wig. It’s really a moot point and there’s really not much the Flying Tomato can do about it.[part title="He's a Sellout"]
Tied up with the he’s too rich business, many in the sport believe Shaun White 'sold out' the sport of snowboarding long ago. These anti-Whites point to his signature model scooter, sold only in his sponsor’s Target stores as the final nail in the commercial coffin.
They say that greed is a factor and that White would sell his dead grandmother if it meant a percentage point on his commission. His fans are less worried, believing his contribution to the evolution of the sport outweighs any commercial contracts. And would you turn down a million bucks if someone wanted to put your name on a crappy scooter?[part title="He is unashamedly competitive"]
In a recent interview, White said, "God, isn’t it so cool that you are all friends?" I am like, "Yeah, we are friends on a certain level but competing is competing. They confuse the two. You know, the Lakers and the Celtics don’t get dinner after a game, it just doesn’t happen. If someone wins, I am not going to go celebrate with that guy. I want to murder that guy."
That’s why he is the best competitor in snowboarding. Some say this is his greatest strength, others that due to this spirit he gains no joy from the simple art of riding.[part title="He Was Arrested"]
In 2012, White was arrested for on charges of vandalism and public intoxication. After the arrest he stated, "I want to apologize for the unwise choices I made over the weekend and for any inconvenience it caused my family, friends, business partners, the hotel and their guests," White had pulled a fire alarm, forcing authorities to evacuate a hotel.
Police said White appeared, "extremely intoxicated and smelled strongly of alcohol" when he attempted to flee the hotel in a cab. While making his exit, White got in an altercation with a bystander, fell and hit his head, resulting in a trip to the hospital.
For many this was unacceptable behaviour for a man who is a role model to a generation of kids. For others, it was actually a relief to the see the Golden Child letting his hair down and being slightly raucous.[part title="He’s also Very Good at Skating"]
We are not sure why being a genius at one sport and an elite athlete in another should get on anyone’s nerves, but maybe pure jealousy is at play here. As a skateboarder he was mentored by Tony Hawk, turned pro at 17 and has won three medals: a bronze, a silver and a gold in vert at the X Games.
He is the only person to have won at both the winter and summer X Games. To be fair, that does just seem to be an oversupply of talent and bends the brain on to how good he may have been as a skater if he actually spent more time doing it.
Esteemed snowboard journalist Matt Barr wellsummed up the Shaun White conundrum when he wrote, "Shaun White’s crime is that he makes no attempt to hide these uncomfortable truths," alluding to his commercial and competitive success.
He probably couldn’t hide them if he tried. To be honest, I doubt he thinks any of this is a problem. For better or worse, he is who he is. And in twenty first century snowboarding, where pretending you’re some paragon of authenticity while paying thousands of pounds to go and swan around in an island for rich people seems to be some mystifying part of the snowboarding identity, that is not acceptable.
Yep, like him or loathe him, Shaun White is a reflection of where snowboarding is today. As Matt says, "But it also means he’s not a hypocrite. And in some weird way, I actually admire him for that."