The villain in this story deserves a chance to win

February 04, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

In my business, people are expected to take firm positions on public issues and not sit around wringing our hands and being wishy-washy.

But I have to admit that I have never bounced from one side to the other as often as I have in the case of Tonya Harding, the ice skater.

When the story first came out that her bodyguard and two other yahoos had plotted the attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan, my harsh response was: "That's it -- it is a disgrace and she should be barred from competing in the Olympics."

But then I remembered the basic principle of law and fairness -- we are all innocent until proven guilty. And I quickly reversed myself and said, "Let her skate."

Then her live-in ex-husband admitted that he had been part of the plot, and I became stern and said: "If he knew about it, she had to know about it. Cast her into the darkness."

But when she pleaded ignorance, I quickly reconsidered. There are many things husbands do that wives don't know about. Thousands of bartenders will attest to that.

So I decided that she should be given the benefit of the doubt. Just because her husband is a creep doesn't mean that she is a creepette. "Let her have the chance for the glory she has worked so hard to attain since she was a mere tyke," I said.

But in a twinkling her ex-husband established that he is both sleazy and lacking chivalry when he said she knew what was going on right from the beginning.

And this forced Tonya to admit that, yes, after Kerrigan was whacked in the leg, she knew that her crowd had done it.

"That," I said, "finally clinched it. If she knew and didn't say anything, lying to the cops and the cameras, she was unworthy and should be banished."

But then I remembered her sad, deprived childhood. A mean, self-centered mother, who seemed to be trying to make the Guinness Book of World Records for most husbands. Kind of a weak father. Living in dumps. A creepy half-brother. A struggle for survival since she was a tot. And somehow having the spunk not only to overcome her bleak surroundings but also to achieve great heights as an athlete.

The part of my brain that harbors latent social worker instincts said: "She was the victim of the evil actions of others. We must take her entire life's experience into consideration: the lack of maternal love, the domination of a manipulative husband, the hunger to rise from Dickensian squalor and to be somebody. Can we not forgive? Yes! So let her skate."

But then I thought: "Wait a minute. She's an adult. All she had to do was go to her coach, who was good, kind and wise, and say: 'Holy cow, coach, you know what that bozo ex-husband of mine did?' The coach would have surely said: 'We blow the whistle.' But she didn't. She just kept lying."

Forget it. I wouldn't let her skate in my ice-clogged driveway.

And that was my final position.

For about half a day. Then I heard a learned woman on the radio talk about how Tonya was a classic female victim of male domination. Yes, it was true. Her husband, a sneaky male person. The bloated bodyguard, a male hulk. The Neanderthal who whacked Kerrigan's knee, a male thug. The getaway driver, another of the bestial male persuasion.

Was I so lacking in sensitivity that I could not recognize a muddled little female who was nothing more than a prisoner of loutish male clods?

So let the kid strap on the blades and do her triple klutz, or whatever those twirls are.

And that became my final position.

For maybe an hour. Then I remembered that this was not some young Mary Tyler Moore we are talking about. Tonya has been around the block more than once. What we have here is a female Dead End Kid. If she were a man, she'd be a world-class barroom brawler or maybe a tattooed arm-wrestling champ.

She admits she knew about the attack after the fact, and my hunch is that she knew about it in the planning stage.

That has brought me to my final position, which I will not change.

And that is to let her skate in the Olympics.

Like everything else today -- politics, crime, news and the lifestyle of anybody besides hermits -- the Olympics are show biz. What could be better show biz than the really mean and nasty girl competing against the really sweet and good girl?

Most of us don't know a triple klutz from a double putz. Most men who watch figure skating are far more interested in perky buns.

But this time we'll be staring at the TV as a rare drama unfolds: goodness and honesty being challenged by the forces of darkness and sleaze.

Even if neither wins a gold medal, or any medal, it will still be the highlight of the Olympics.

And if it happens and the judging is legit, I know who will come out the winner.

My money will be on Tonya.

Why should ice skating be any different from just about everything else in the world?

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