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  The Tonya Harding Debate

Washington Post
Saturday, February 5, 1994; Page A16

We confess to some surprise over the reaction to Tonya Harding and the question of whether she should be allowed to represent the United States in the Olympics. We're not surprised that she has won sympathy for struggling through an immensely difficult family life or respect for her disciplined battle for excellence in the rink. Nor should there be an inclination on anybody's part to give any automatic credit to the claims of her ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, that Miss Harding was part of the plot against Nancy Kerrigan. While the evidence may yet implicate Miss Harding in the attack, the word of Mr. Gillooly — hardly a character who inspires trust — is certainly not enough.

Nonetheless, we don't understand the relevance of saying (which is certainly true) that Miss Harding is "innocent until proven guilty" of having participated in the planning of the assault. Such participation is not required to make the case that she should not be on the Olympic team. Leave aside the fact that representing the United States in the Olympics is not a constitutional right, but a hard-won privilege, as Miss Harding herself well knows. The central issue is that Miss Harding has admitted that she was complicit in a coverup, withholding her knowledge of the plot against Miss Kerrigan — gained after the fact, she said — until well after the police had broken the case open. Miss Harding has not even tried to explain her silence, except with a vague reference to "fear." We think those who say Miss Harding should still be able to skate absent a direct finding of complicity before the fact are saying more than they realize: They're saying it's okay to cover up a crime if you didn't know about it in advance. Such logic may end up protecting Miss Harding from a legal indictment, assuming her story holds up, but not from her personal and moral responsibilities. How often have we heard those lectures about the evils of covering up the offenses of associates in order to avoid personal embarrassment? Don't they apply here?

There is also an element of down-market chic in some of the defenses of Miss Harding, expressions of sympathy that are really nothing more than condescension. Miss Harding's critics are said to be against her because of her background or sandpaper personality. Whatever happened, it's said, the benefit of the doubt must go to Miss Harding because she overcame so many odds. But examine the rosters of the major sporting teams, and you will find legions of admirable people who overcame large obstacles. They expect to be judged by their achievements and their behavior, and they should be.

And what about Nancy Kerrigan? If there is a real, live victim in all this, it is she. A daughter of the working class, she, too, struggled to reach the Olympics, and she has responded to the assault with grace and admirable restraint. Miss Kerrigan is entitled to justice. Miss Harding's silence could have prevented justice from being done and the attackers from being caught. That is what Miss Harding did wrong and why she should not go to the Olympics.

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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