VAIL, Colo. (AP) - Shaun White turns 30 later this year, and the world’s best rider is celebrating by stamping his name all over the business side of the world he’s helped create.
As he shapes the future, in part by buying resorts and running events, it’s becoming clear that future will include what, at best, will be a shaky relationship between White and another of the sport’s biggest players, ESPN.
The network that created the X Games and, in doing so, provided White an outsized platform from which to become a star, nixed his invitation to this year’s Winter X Games, denying a 13-time champion a spot in the biggest contest of the year. It was a shocker of a move that engendered bad feelings which, nearly two months later, haven’t gone away.
“It’s kind of opened my eyes,” White said in a wide-ranging interview with The Associated Press this week. “This happened, and I’m thinking, should I keep going back or not?”
White says the network told him the snub came because of unflattering comments he made at a business forum last year about ESPN’s unsuccessful attempt to take the X Games global. White said he and the network negotiated about collaborating in that effort, but those talks stalled.
After the talks broke down, the snowboarder-slash-businessman’s next move was to purchase the Air & Style sports and music festival - an international set of events with a Coachella-like art-and-music vibe interspersed with some of action sports’ biggest stars. He plans on expanding that into a six-event tour, starting next season.
ESPN, meanwhile, has refused to discuss the reason for White’s snub from Winter X, which has only further irritated the two-time Olympic gold medalist.
“The rise of Shaun White and the X Games will always go hand in hand,” Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming and X Games, told AP when asked for comment about the rift. “Each has been good for the other. We have always valued our relationship with Shaun, and that hasn’t changed as both continue to evolve.”
White agrees. But where they go next is anybody’s guess.
He has since declined a spot he earned, based on a victory in the Dew Tour earlier this season, in ESPN’s startup event - a summer-winter hybrid X Games in Oslo, Norway. “I guess I’m good enough to help you launch your new event, but not good enough to go to Aspen,” he said.
Instead, he focused on riding this weekend at the U.S. Open, run by one of his very first sponsors, snowboarding pioneer Jake Burton. White won the halfpipe contest Saturday, making him 2 for 2 on the halfpipe this season.
It could’ve been 3 for 3. Successful as he’s become, White is still bothered by the X Games snub.
“Those are the moments you get to shine. It feels good. It’s why we do this,” he said.
But, he insists, “I’m not moping around about it.”
He remembers a time when he got flak for not having a bigger voice in the sport. Set to hit the “Big 3-0” on Sept. 3, he insists those days are over.
“If there’s a time for change and something to happen, I feel like the next three years will be very interesting,” White said.
He admits he thought he might retire after the Sochi Olympics, but his failure to win a third straight gold medal in the halfpipe reignited his passion for the sport. He will be at the Olympics in South Korea in 2018, and hasn’t ruled out the 2022 Games in Beijing.
On the road to Korea, White has changed some things. He parted ways with his coach, Bud Keene, and is now working with J.J. Thomas, the 2002 Olympic bronze medalist who, ironically, took a spot on the U.S. team that year that could have gone to White. White has hired a full-time physical therapist and trainer, shunning the old days when, “I would basically show up in town and roll the dice.”
His deal to design boys’ clothes for Target has lapsed. He still sells the kids stuff online, but has reached a deal with Macy’s for a more adult clothing line.
His band, Bad Things, is still playing but in transition while it searches for a new singer.
Biggest of all is Air & Style.
Three of the six contests will run along the lines of his original vision - music and a Big Air competition set in a festival atmosphere. Thanks to a deal with online video provider Go90, fans can still watch last month’s event in Los Angeles on their cellphones. The three new events will include halfpipe and slopestyle contests. They’ll take place in China, Switzerland and in California at Mammoth Mountain, White’s childhood mountain, and one he recently bought a stake in.
White thinks the events could change the face of snowboarding.
“I’ve had certain riders come to me and say they’re ready to not compete at the Olympics for me,” he said. “That’s very humbling. I was like, ‘Settle down.’”
White’s contests could share calendar dates with some World Cup events that are considered important to the Olympic movement and its qualifying process. But since snowboarding was incorporated into the Olympics in 1998, there have been multiple, competing tours with no single path toward either the Olympics or fame.
White is wondering if that equation might change if his tour takes off the way he hopes it will.
“I could say that I dream big,” White said.
Either way, the Winter X Games aren’t going anywhere. They remain the biggest contest this side of the Olympics. White isn’t sure if he’ll be part of that anymore.
“Talks will need to happen,” White said. “I’ve left it in their hands. I’ve got an event to run, a band to play in, a contest to compete in. That whole thing happened, and I went and did my thing.”
Eddie Pells is a national writer for The Associated Press. Follow him at www.twitter.com/epells .
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