Harding's in, but still an outcast

February 13, 1994|By JOHN EISENBERG

LILLEHAMMER, Norway -- That Tonya Harding gets to skate in the Olympics is appropriate. But it's hardly a reason to cheer.

If the FBI, a grand jury and the police in two cities can't piece together enough evidence in 38 days to arrest her, the U.S. Olympic Committee has no business banning her from the Olympics.

But she makes a rotten martyr. Boy. They don't get much more rotten.

She has lied. She has covered up. A figure skating panel said it found evidence suggesting she helped plot the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

The only thing she had on her side was her right to due process.

A big bazooka in this little war.

Violating some vague code of conduct, as the USOC alleged she had done, never had a chance as a courtroom argument. Not in the age of Olympic professionalism.

Judge Patrick D. Gilroy said in his Oregon court order yesterday that the USOC has the right to discipline "certain" conduct. But that's a double standard waiting to happen, raw meat for hungry lawyers.

Let's consider just one of the many possible examples. Gold medalist Charles Barkley wasn't exactly a paragon of virtue in the year leading up to Barcelona. Somewhat less than ideally Olympian. Oh, but maybe there just wasn't anything in the code about spitting on kids.

Why should Tonya be punished and not Barkley? Has either been charged with a crime?

And anyway, with George Steinbrenner as a vice president, does the USOC really have any right to make pronouncements about ethics?

In the end, coincidentally enough, Tonya gets to skate because she had the law on her side.

She stared the USOC right in the face with that $20 million lawsuit.

The USOC blinked.

Now that she is in, hopefully she will fall on her posterior.

She has shown about as much remorse as Jack Tatum.

It's enough to curdle your lunch.

Sorry, but a cool "I'm sorry" just isn't good enough.

Watching her lately, smiling and joking and playing for the cameras, loving every ounce of the attention while complaining about it, one got the impression that she'd forgotten why the cameras were there in the first first place.

Kerrigan had to suffer through terror, self-doubt, therapy. Harding had to sell her story to "Inside Edition" for $600,000.

Are we calling that even?

Now that she is in, hopefully she will toe every triple.

Klutz every lutz.

Only in principle does she deserve to be in Lillehammer.

On the gut level: get her out of here!

Sorry, just had to say it. Get it out of my system.

The only ones who exceeded Tonya in blundering wrongheadedness were the pooh-bahs of the USOC.

They embarked on an agonizingly slow, properly channeled attempt to punish her, then complained that she was making all the news once the Olympics came into focus this week.

What did they expect would happen? That she wouldn't sue? That she would just let the USOC muscle her out of the Games?

She's too tough to let that happen. Anyone could see that.

Apparently, the USOC was the last to know.

If the USOC had just gone and announced two weeks ago that she was in, the story would have at least flickered until Tonya skated next week.

It wouldn't have loomed quite so large over the bobsled and biathlon and all those other events American sports fans hold so dear.

Ah, well. Anyway. Maybe the USOC figured this would happen all along. That's one theory making the rounds. It makes some sense.

Clearly, the USOC made its point when it called for a disciplinary hearing in Oslo. Clearly, Harding was going to get dumped. And she would sue. And probably win.

So, now, the USOC has made its point. Established its moral ground. Clearly, it disapproves of Harding's behavior since the national championships, legal or not. It wishes that this was 1955 and the courts wouldn't intervene in an innocent little matter like who gets to skate in the Olympics.

Point made.

What else could the USOC hope to do after its painstakingly slow investigation had left both sides with too little time to properly prepare for a hearing?

Time was with Harding. If the Olympics were a month from now, she might have been in trouble.

Now that she is in, hopefully she will boop her toe loop.

It would only be right.

She says she wants to hug Nancy.

Please.

Do us all a favor.

Just shut up.

Go ahead and skate.

Fall on your rear.

Then go away.

Please.

And keep in mind: the police haven't closed your file yet.

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