Tonya Harding is the absolute epitome of a classic sports motif, because she just can’t handle success at all. Harding, a sympathetic figure in some ways, is not a sympathetic figure in many other ways because she is simply her own worst enemy. Tonya has had a lot of bad luck, but her really poor decision making, and the most critical of times, is what always seems to do her in.
This month has seen the release of the must see film “I, Tonya” and with it a Hollywood hit that portrays her in a much sympathetic light than the media ever did. You also had the ABC primetime special “Truth and Lies: the Tonya Harding Story,” which gave her a gigantic megaphone with which to tell her own side of the story.
You know which story, the one that is more interesting than everything else that has ever happened in every Winter Olympics combined (with the exception of the 1980 Miracle on Ice of course).
Harding, a zillion times more interesting than the person who will forever be her antithesis, Nancy Kerrigan, has an image to rehabilitate, and a legacy to try and repair. She was making huge inroads, and doing so in a Winter Olympic year, until Tonya Harding happened.
Her own publicist/agent Michael A. Rosenberg dropped her, because she had the brilliant idea of fining any reporter who dare asked her about Kerrigan’s brutal kneecapping hit job right before the ’94 Olympiad.
#Illini are the Tonya Harding of college basketball. Lots of unfortunate circumstances, horrible luck. You feel somewhat sympathetic to them. Then at the same time, you don't feel sympathy, cuz they are their own worst enemy, due to making some really poor decisions.
— Paul M. Banks ???? (@PaulMBanks) January 16, 2018
“‘I, Tonya’ is now ‘goodbye, Tonya,’” Rosenberg posted on Facebook and then Tweeted out.
“Unfortunately, we reached an impasse today on how to treat the press in the future. Her adamant and final position is that reporters must sign an affidavit stating that they won’t ask her anything ‘about the past’ or they’ll be fined $25,000. Obviously, it doesn’t work that way, and therefore I’ve chosen to terminate our business relationship.”
Yikes! Nothing says “I have nothing to hide” like “I’ll make you sign a contract saying you’ll pay me $25,000 if you ask me about my knowledge of the attack.”
At this point, she would have just been better off going Trump style, with randomly and pointlessly tweeting in ALL CAPS with !!!!
She would look more innocent if on some random Tuesday she all of a sudden tweeted out “I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT IT!! NOR ORDER IT/SIGN OFF ON IT!!!!”
When will public figures ever learn that press opportunities don’t work this way? I once covered a Los Angeles Lakers game where the the team PR flak told us not to ask Kobe Bryant about his past extra-marital affairs (this was at the time that Tiger Woods’ personal life was blowing up the news cycle). That episode was ridiculous, but unfortunately, it’s not all that that unheard of.
Sports teams often try to pull the same b.s. that Harding attempted to do here. Typically though it’s the agent/publicist/media relations professional who makes this request, not the actual interview subject themselves. Poor decision making and squandered opportunity is the story of Harding’s life. She’s the first woman in history to land the triple axle. By some metrics (or at least some “experts” claim), she was the second most famous person in America during the 1990s; behind only Bill Clinton. Yet she sold the story of her life to the film production for just $1,500. Not that you can put a ton of stock in what internet celebrity net worth appraisals say, but she’s projected to have a net worth of just $30,000.
The same tools show Kerrigan to have a net worth of $8,000,000. Kerrigan made her money and had her fame, she you can understand why she doesn’t talk much publicly these days, and why she’s not interested in rehashing Skategate from 24 years ago these days. Of course, you also shouldn’t buy the narrow minded, boolean media narrative that dictates you have to be either Team Nancy Kerrigan or Team Tonya Harding.
Kerrigan is not all good and Tonya is not all bad- what the media presented then was a fallacy. At least, the movie and the ABC special conveyed more depth. During the last Winter Olympics, both NBC and ESPN made documentaries on what happened between the two, and it was a step in the right direction towards presenting the actual complexity of the situation.
Kerrigan also came from a modest background. Her personal life and family life has also seen a lot of tumult and strife.
Like Tonya Harding, she’s complicated, and should not be reduced to a two-dimensional television character.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net and TheBank.News, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, a former writer for the Washington Times, NBC Chicago.com and Chicago Tribune.com, currently contributes regularly to WGN CLTV and the Tribune company’s blogging community Chicago Now.