Kevin Clash is likely breathing a heavy sigh of relief now that the man who accused him of engaging in a sexual relationship when he was 16 years old to when Clash was 45 years old has recanted his story.
The accuser, whom The Smoking Gun has identified as aspiring model Sheldon Stephens, released the following statement from his lawyer: "[Stephens] wants it to be known that his sexual relationship with Mr. Clash was an adult consensual relationship. [Stephens] will have no further comment."
Clash released a statement himself saying: "I am relieved that this painful allegation has been put to rest. I will not discuss it further."
Neither Stephens nor Clash want to discuss it any further, but the reality is that the story will haunt both for the rest of their lives— especially Clash. TMZ, who broke the initial accusation, has claimed that while they don’t know what prompted Clash’s accuser to change his story “the accuser's attorney had been meeting with Clash's attorney as recent as an hour ago, discussing a financial settlement and 6-figures were on the table.”
In other words, the gossip outlet can't tell you what happened one way or the other.
Not to be outdone, the now 24-year-old man who initiated the scandal has had his own past resurface. The Smoking Gun revealed that he was arrested in 2009 on charges of receiving stolen property after allegedly robbing a Los Angeles music manager of $250,000 in jewelry. Those charges were subsequently dropped, but that didn’t stop the press from reporting it now to add fire to the media narrative. Still, the scandal is particularly damning for Clash, given his career as the voice of Sesame Street’s Elmo and the extensive charity work he’s done with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Change in story or not, Clash’s sexually explicit messages to Stephens when he was 18 are now are now forever searchable. Americans can barely handle sex scandals involving consenting adults in adult settings, much less grownups caught in them when they work around children. And I’m not convinced that this story wasn’t pushed so hastily given it involves two men and all the lingering societal stigmas that come with that.
Clash’s accuser may have recanted his story, but the puppeteer's image likely remains relatively tainted in the eyes of those who might’ve clicked on the first bit of gossip on the matter yet not bothered to read any follow-up stories.
I don’t know exactly what happened between Kevin Clash and Sheldon Stephens, but I know it went from 'sex scandal' to 'maybe not' in only a few days. Such is the price that comes with our insatiable need for content in our click-happy, 24-hour cable news world. It spurs media folks to churn out stories as fast as possible, though many tend to forget that there are actual lives behind these tales. The end result is millions being quick to pass judgment without adequate information. We'll likely never know if this is a case of child abuse or a greedy ex-lover looking to extort a wealthy man, but many will be convinced one way or another no matter what.
As uncomfortable as this story is for people who grew up on Sesame Street, be even more bothered by the reality that another person’s character could be nearly annihilated in the same fashion tomorrow if not sooner.