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  Miss Harding's Responsibility

Washington Post
Saturday, January 29, 1994; Page A18




We hope that Tonya Harding is telling the whole truth when she says that she knew nothing in advance about the assault on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, allegedly organized by her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her sometime bodyguard, Shawn Eric Eckardt. She acknowledged in a brief public statement Thursday that she learned about the plot against Miss Kerrigan within a week of the Jan. 6 attack and that said she had failed "to report things I learned about the assault." She said her "first reaction was one of disbelief, and disbelief was followed by shock and fear." She expressed sorrow about what happened and declared herself "embarrassed and ashamed to think that anyone close to me could be involved." And then she begged to be allowed to skate in the Olympics. "This is my last chance," she said.

Taking Miss Harding at her word as to what happened, we still find ourselves thinking that had she come forward immediately when she learned of the plotting behind the attack and said exactly what she said Thursday, it would be possible to make a case for her going on to the Olympics. If, indeed, the attack on Miss Kerrigan was organized without her knowledge, she could not be held responsible for it. But she is now responsible for her own silence, which implicated her morally if not legally -- the legal issues are still unclear -- in what "those close" to her did. Had the police not uncovered the plot, would she simply have remained silent and allowed the plotters to go unpunished? We'll never know. What is known is that she kept her knowledge to herself until well after the plot had unraveled.

Now, a five-member panel appointed by the U.S. Figure Skating Association has begun an inquiry that could lead to Miss Harding's removal from the Olympic team. One can expect hand-wringing and perhaps a lot of unconvincing high-mindedness about the purity of sports. Miss Harding should short-circuit this process, assume responsibility for her actions and take herself out of the competition. It would be the strongest statement she could make on behalf of her own sense of what constitutes tough but fair competition -- and the difference between that and simple thuggery.

We have heard all the commentary suggesting that this episode carries larger meanings about what's wrong with sporting competition or what's wrong with America. Spare us. This is a dreadful episode of the sort that has happened before and, alas, will happen again. But there are no big lessons here. There is simply the crime against one talented young woman and the tragedy of another talented young woman who has struggled to earn the world's respect. She still has a chance of doing so, but not at the Olympics.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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