November 19, 2018
Gold Medalist Offers Mea Culpa for Halloween Costume
Listen, in case you have never heard this before, the Internet is forever… and it’s not very forgiving. You can be a hero today, but mess up once on Twitter, and you may find yourself apologizing for weeks… if you can manage to salvage your career at all.
This is a refrain that we keep playing, because people do not seem to be able to come to grips with the implications and ramifications of internet and social media on popular culture or on public relations. It seems like every week, another celebrity is learning the hard way. And, yet, it keeps happening… and often for the same reasons year in and year out.
Recently, the celebrity making a public social media apology was Gold Medal winning Olympian Shaun White, the snowboard impresario and elder statesman of the sport who came from behind to blow everyone away to win the halfpipe in PyeongChang earlier this year. At the time, he was celebrated as a hero, both as an ambassador for the sport and for the nation.
After Halloween, not so much. White was raked over the social media coals for, you probably guessed it, his Halloween costume. Yes, only a week or so after Megyn Kelly imploded her career on live TV over this very issue, White was photographed and posted on social media dressed as Simple Jack, a mentally disabled character played by Ben Stiller in the movie, Tropic Thunder.
The movie itself has come under fire both for lines about and for the depiction of the Simple Jack character. White may or may not have known that. What he should have known is, as an Olympian, there was one huge group watching him, a group representing millions of fans and athletes who dream of competing like White but struggle due to disabilities — The Special Olympics.
The organization blasted White in the press, saying: “We are truly disappointed that Shaun White, an acclaimed Olympian, would choose this costume which is so offensive and causes so much pain… Disability is not a joke nor should it be a punchline. We hope that Shaun White and others learn that this just continues stigma, stereotypes and discrimination.”
White, for his part, was quick to call himself out and offer a sincere apology, saying: “I owe everyone in the Special Olympics community an apology for my poor choice of Halloween costume the other night… It was a last-minute decision. It was the wrong one. The Special Olympics are right to call me out on it. They do great work supporting many tremendous athletes, and I am so sorry for being insensitive. Lesson learned.”
White made the right call, and his apology seemed both honest and heartfelt. Fans and the organization seemed ready to forgive and forget, but, a different or a delayed response from White, it may not have gone that way.
-5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian