Pick Your Poison

As I checked the speaker list during my planning for #HRFL19, I wondered, more than once, at the choice of Shaun White. I didn’t know much about him, other than he is/was a famous snowboarder, who was in the Olympics (4 times), likely won a medal or 2 (3 Gold medals) with a lot of red hair (though a shorter hair cut now). I wondered what he would be able to share that is not just relevant to HR professionals, but to any group of professionals.

Then, during the wait time for the 5k (we were there way too early), I just happened to be in the right place when the notification from the conference app shared the secret word for a Meet and Greet with Shaun White. And I thought, what the hell. Winning a meet & greet, I also decided I better pay attention during his session, get a blog post & a cool picture.

It was neat to hear about his story. As a mother, not sure I would make the same decisions his parents did. One trip to the hospital with broken bones after some extreme snowboarding would have me encouraging the girls back to safe hobbies like their art and music. But his parents encouraged him in what he loved doing, just as I would do for my girls. And Jessie did get a skateboard for Christmas, so maybe you will see us someday … (nah)

Shaun shared his experiences at the forefront of a new sport, when he started snowboarding, child-size snowboards weren’t made. He shared his comebacks from major injuries, how he watched what his competitors were doing and then worked to take those things to the next level. He shared how he went to one event with the intent to lose just to see what the competition was up to. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Tallageda Nights were referenced.

What Shaun didn’t talk about was the sexual harassment suit. Shaun was sued in 2016 by a former band mate (suit was settled out of court). He was asked about this during a press conference after wining his 3rd Gold Medal in 2018. His response was that he wasn’t going to talk about “gossip.” He later apologized for calling it gossip. An article in the New York Times (2/2018), quotes Shaun “I have grown and changed as a person, as we all grow and change, and am proud of who I am today.”

As I was posting pictures of my meet and greet, a friend shared an article about Shaun’s harassment suite with me. And my first response was “well fuck.” Because Shaun was a genuinely nice guy during the Meet & Greet. He was chatty and signed just about anything and everything in front of him until it was time to leave. He spoke kindly to a mom who has a son with a similar heart condition. But that’s the problem isn’t it? Nice guys sexually harass women all the time. It’s not just the creepy, pervy guys. And they don’t sexually harass everyone.

And now I’m conflicted. Which is life today. Every choice we make, no matter how “good” we try to be with it, has ramifications. My choice to shop at Walmart in my hometown is met with disdain by some because, well, Walmart. Until I share that I don’t want to shop at the other grocery store in town because they won’t allow the Girl Scouts to sell cookies but will allow the Boy Scouts to sell popcorn. Small town = limited choices.

Here’s the thing: I really don’t know what the right thing to do here is. I don’t know what happened in Shaun’s situation. I really don’t like how he handled the situation when it re-arose during the press conference. I also don’t like that he didn’t address it during his talk. His last words (that I could find) on it were that he’s grown and changed. If I had known about the suit prior to the possible meet and greet, would I have jumped at the chance? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe he has changed and learned from that situation. But we don’t know.  But if he would take the time to share the full story, how powerful could that talk be?

Photo of Shaun White and me.

Disclosure: I was compensated for attending HRFlorida conference and sharing my thoughts and commentary on the conference. No one at HRFlorida directs what I am supposed to write or how I cover the conference – I am simply invited to share my impressions of the experience. 

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