THE TONYAPHILE FORTNIGHTLY COGITARIUM

By JOE HARAN

YOU'VE GOT TO BE CAREFULLY TAUGHT
The question I'm asked the most often, regarding Tonya M. Harding, is: "Why is there so much blind hatred directed at Tonya by the skating community?" I used to wonder about that, too--long before 1994.

When I began appearing daily at the skating rink to watch Tonya practice, the "why" soon became clear. Young skaters, some mere children, would on a regular basis deliberately skate into Tonya's path when she would be setting up for jumps. The music would, on a regular basis, suddenly and mysteriously stop while Tonya was in the midst of rehearsing one of her programs. When she left her skates on a bench in the skaters' area during practice, they disappeared while she was off having coffee. Her locker at the rink was broken into so many times that rink management began assigning her a different locker every week; and the vandalism stopped. The stolen items, including the skates, were never recovered. Some people who knew better, like the skating son of Tonya's choreographer at the time, would denigrate Tonya with straight-faced statements to spectators like: "She's not all that good." Really? At the time, Tonya had won the national championship in addition to at least ten other tournaments I could think of--both in this country and abroad. She'd already won a silver medal at the world championships. She'd been on our Olympic team. Not all that good?

Those stupid remarks, put together with the above-mentioned stupid actions, painted a picture of misguided parenting and peer pressure. Tonya was considered an "obstacle" to young skaters who wanted to be where she was. The fact they hadn't the ability, skill or talent Tonya possessed didn't matter. Their parents were paying good money for coaching, costumes, equipment, ice time and travel. And, by golly, that Harding character was stealing all the thunder. She was in the way.On top of that, this Harding character was a disgrace to the sport--so the skating-mom rap went. She went to parties, she smoked cigarettes, she drank beer, she had an active social life. And she wasn't from a nice middle-class neighborhood. She was white trash, trailer trash, the girl with dirt under her fingernails. As far as the wannabes were concerned Tonya wasn't a champion, to be respected and to learn from. She was the enemy. And, as students of propaganda know, the enemy must be stopped by words as well as deeds. There are two ways to win tournaments. One was Tonya's way, via superior figure-skating. The other avenue wasn't open to her: it's a five-letter word that begins with "m" and ends with "y." And Tonya wouldn't "go away," the path she was encouraged to follow after winning Skate America International for the second time in 1991. Certain skaters, with ready access to what the "m" word represents, were being pushed as the skating establishment's new marketable icons.

So, went the unwritten rule, let's all pull together now and get Harding out of here. A conspiracy? Possibly. A manifestation of like-mindedness? Surely. Jeffery S. Gillooly and his associates eventually provided the figure-skating establishment with the means to end Tonya's amateur career. But before the subsequent round of Tonya-hating began, the back-channel Tonya-hating had already chalked up plenty of mileage. And it's there still. Even today the internet is home to at least one webmaster who delights in labeling Tonya a manipulator, a liar and a "psycho." (One wonders, given Tonya's achievements in skating and her active private life, when she would have had the time for all this alleged plotting and scheming while allegedly saddled with a severe mental illness.) Such defamation of Tonya is fashionably commonplace, authored by the common. Eschewing evidence and facts to the contrary, the figure-skating hate-Tonya machine has plenty of establishment support in! its efforts to denigrate her. Just read the comments pertaining to Tonya authored by Maurice W. Stillwell and his Tonya-bashing colleagues on the news group . As Oscar Hammerstein II pointed out fifty years ago in "South Pacific": "You've got to be taught to hate and fear. It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught." Some of those nice gentlemanly and ladylike people who wanted to buy their little darlings a figure-skating championship one day did a swell job of inculcating anti-Tonya bigotry in their precious children's minds as part of their training. And children can be fast learners.