Tonya Harding needs grace-not everyone is perfect

ABIGAIL SAATHOFF, Opinion Columnist

On Jan. 6, 1994, Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee by a jealous Tonya Harding in an effort to secure the gold medal at the Olympics for herself. 

Right? That’s the story we all learned in class, and that’s the story we choose to believe. In reality, a much different story took place, one that the media elected to ignore in favor of a different story. The story that I told above is the story where Harding faced merciless scrutiny for an act she didn’t even commit. 

Thinking only of the facts, here’s how the story went: On Jan. 6, 1994, Kerrigan was attacked after her practice session, by a masked man, later revealed to be Shane Stant, who whacked her with a collapsible police baton on her lower thigh. The attack left her with severe bruising, and unable to complete the following day. After the attack, a video of Kerrigan’s reaction circulated through the media, one of Kerrigan on the ground screaming “why.” 

Initially, Harding didn’t seem to have any involvement, but as the story unfolded, and more and more people from Harding’s inner circle began to appear in the story, the more the assumptions about Harding’s involvement grew, with more the media latched onto said involvement. 

In Harding’s side of the story, she claims that she had no involvement in the attack, and only realized in the days afterward that her ex-husband and bodyguard may have been involved, after recalling a conversation she overheard about them taking out “one of her competitors.” Because of this, she was later charged with conspiracy to hinder prosecution, where she served three years of probation and paid a $160,000 fine. 

Harding became a pawn for journalists to take advantage of for the sake of a story. In an interview with the Washington Post, various journalists from the time admitted to flattening Harding’s tires, having her car towed, digging through the trash at her home, rink and her coaches home, and more. Harding was also convinced her house had been bugged. 

After the attack and the involvement of her inner circle began to come out, Harding was kicked off the Olympic Team by the U.S. Olympic Committee, but after suing them for $25 million, she was allowed to remain on the team. When Harding did compete, she struggled and ended up receiving eighth, while Kerrigan earned silver. 

Headlines capturing her loss were brutal. “Few Tears, No Blood as Snow White Beats Poison Dwarf,” the Irish Times declared. “A perfect Lutz, a total klutz,” screamed the New York Daily News. “Beauty crushes the Beast,” proclaimed Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet. These articles only serve to prove that the world had found its enemy, and that enemy was Harding, not the people who actually executed the attack. 

But why? Why did America latch on to this story, and use it to propel Harding – Harding’s life to the depths of despair for no real reason? In the opinion of Sarah Marshall Harding was the topic of news because she didn’t fit the picture-perfect image of the ice skating world that everyone wanted. 

Harding was far from picture-perfect. Harding was raised in a low-income family, her mom was verbally and physically abusive and she worked multiple jobs in her teenage years to ensure that she could afford to skate. Harding’s story was placed in immediate opposition to Kerrigan’s story of the middle-class girl with a blind mother who just so happened to be picture-perfect. Even in interviews and conversations, Harding was viewed as crass and trashy, while Kerrigan was graceful and well-spoken. 

Harding was viewed as white trash, while Kerrigan was viewed as a perfect angel. 

For years, I’ve contemplated this story, listened to podcasts, read articles and more trying to determine whether I believe Harding or not, whether or not the media’s perception of her even before the attack had an impact and more. I believe that the media latched on to Harding’s involvement even though there was no real backing to it, and racked her through the mud mercilessly, additionally, I believe Harding likely had little to no involvement, her ex-husband was insane, and her bodyguard had dreams of growing his business. The relevance of this story has been long-standing, and ignites thoughts of media involvement in other large events.  

Though I believe Harding’s side of the story, if only barely, this quote still makes me feel the slightest bit fishy. 

In an article in USA Today, Harding said, “Enough apologizing; she has her life. I have my life. We both have wonderful lives. That should be all that matters.”