Justice for Tonya Harding

March 18, 1994

Plea bargains are practical solutions to legal problems but unsatisfactory endings to moral fables. So figure skater Tonya Harding's guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to hinder prosecution cannot satisfy the cravings of millions of spectators of courtroom sport for an acceptable conclusion.

The bargain was consummated on a day of crucial testimony to an Oregon grand jury considering more serious charges against her, in the Jan. 6 beating of fellow competitor Nancy Kerrigan in Detroit. Also on a day when Ms. Harding practiced to compete in the world figure skating championships in Japan next week.

She will not be charged with anything else, and she will not compete in the "worlds." The chief concern of Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink seemed to be to end her amateur skating career.

Ms. Harding does not admit to planning the attack. Mr. Frink continues to say he has sufficient evidence that she did. But it will never be adjudicated. The thirst of the American people to know all is not slaked. The tabloids will take over.

Ms. Harding will pay $160,000, submit to three years of probation, stay within three states, perform community service and undergo psychiatric evaluation and counseling. More important to the moral fable, she resigned her membership in the Figure Skating Association. She may not skate in any event it sanctions, including amateur and pro-am championships. She

stays out of jail and may earn money from anyone who wants to employ her on the West Coast.

The worst verdict on this affair is that the U.S. Figure Skating Association was powerless to enforce its code of conduct. It could not kick her out, so Judge Donald H. Londer did. It could not keep her from the Olympics. It has not shown competitors that cheaters will be disciplined. What it should now face, to redeem itself as regulator of the sport, is a decision to revoke her national championship, which was not fairly won.

Tonya Harding let down multitudes of fans who believed in her, and especially the youngsters wanting to emulate her skill and courage and dedication. In fairness, she never asked to be a role model. She wanted only to win a gold medal and make millions of dollars afterward. This she is denied as a result of her own actions. At best what she can aspire to achieve is a squalid fraction of what might have been.

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