Tonya the class victim vs. Tonya the calculator

February 23, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

I forgave Tonya when she did not tell authorities what she knew about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

I forgave Tonya when she was accused by her ex-husband of plotting the attack.

I forgave Tonya when she brandished a baseball bat at the driver of a car that did not turn right on a red light.

I forgave Tonya for being found with a 9mm handgun and a shotgun after a gunshot brought police to her apartment.

I forgave Tonya when she dropped out of school in the 10th grade.

I even forgave Tonya for smoking.

I figured: Hey, deal with it, America.

But when Tonya Harding walked out on Connie Chung the other night, that's when I could no longer forgive her.

Tonya, don't you know Connie is there to help you? Don't you realize that Connie wants nothing more than to slobber over you?

So what do you do? You walk out because Connie asks you some fuzzy questions about "the controversy."

Hey, Tonya, deal with it.

I know you don't want to talk about "the controversy." I know you want to talk only about ice skating.

But ask yourself this: Would hundreds of reporters be following you around if it were not for "the controversy"?

Would "Inside Edition" be paying you $600,000 for interviews?

And would the media be heaping so much sympathy and understanding on what would otherwise be called a misspent life?

Tonya, I know you don't believe me, but the media have been cutting you a lot of slack.

And that's because you are of that class the media does not understand: You are from, story after story emphasizes, "the working class."

"I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth," you told reporters. (But then again, neither was Nancy Kerrigan, whose father was a welder and whose mother is blind.) "I am a skater who has had to overcome obstacles. That's why a lot of people like me."

And they do! On "Larry King Live," Olympian Mary Lou Retton explained why we should not sit in judgment on a person with Tonya's disabilities.

Retton: "I think all athletes, Olympians, should be ethical. But you know, ethical and acting ethical is something that you learn growing up. You learn from your parents, you learn from your siblings, your peers, to act in a proper way, to act and do things right in your life."

King: "Are you saying that Tonya . . . is still in the learning process?"

Retton: "I think so, yes."

Poor, Tonya, victim of the working-class home, where ethics are never taught.

One thing, though: The working class includes roughly 40.5 million American households, and I disagree that ethics are not taught there.

I, like Tonya, grew up in a working-class home. Like her father, my father drove a truck. Like her father, my father left home. She lived in a trailer; we lived in a basement.

(I could provide more details, but it's nobody's business and, besides, I am waiting for "Inside Edition" to pay me $600,000 for my story.)

And you know what? I found ethics were talked about a lot at home, even if it was just called "doing right."

Never once did anybody tell me that I was allowed to do wrong. Or that I deserved pity if I did. Or that I could remove my rivals with a club.

But, no doubt about it, the country has changed.

Harvard Professor James Q. Wilson once wrote: "No one can say how much of crime results from its increased profitability and how much from its decreased shamefulness. . . . And many people, neither wicked nor innocent, but watchful, dissembling, and calculating of their opportunities, ponder our reaction to wickedness as a cue to what they might profitably do."

He wrote that 19 years ago. Today, he would realize there is no such thing as wickedness any more.

Today, everything is beyond the control of the individual. The Bobbitts, the Menendez brothers (who grew up in the privileged class), Tonya and Jeff, they are all victims of cruelty, abuse, or of factors beyond their control.

They are not responsible. They are merely calculating.

So I do not believe Tonya is the way she is because she grew up in today's working class.

I believe Tonya is the way she is because she grew up in today's America.

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