January 6, 2014, - 5:15 pm

WHY? WHY? WHY? Nancy Kerrigan Should Thank Tonya Harding for Knee Whack 20 Years Ago Today

By Debbie Schlussel

Nancy Kerrigan should be thanking her lucky stars that Tonya Harding and company whacked her on the knee and made her a star and multi-millionaire. It’s the best thing that ever happened to her (or any figure skater).

Remember the farcical, hard to believe ice skating plot in which female figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was hit on the knee by associates of Tonya Harding at the Ice Skating Nationals in Detroit? Hard to believe it happened TWENTY YEARS AGO today.


When I had my Detroit-based CBS Radio show, we used to use Nancy Kerrigan crying, “WHY? WHY?” as a sound effect when ever I asked the question “why” to callers. And that’s the best this scandal did for me. But for ice skating, it was a boon. The sport is no longer popular, but for a short moment, it was the most popular sport, bar pro football, on TV. The Olympic women’s figure skating competition starring Tonya and Nancy was the FIFTH most watched television event EVER, beaten only by the “MASH” finale, two Superbowls, a “Roots” episode, and the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas.”

On January 6, 1994, Kerrigan–who was a nobody–was whacked on the knee by Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, and her oversized bodyguard/Pillsbury Dough Boy Shawn Eckhardt, and a third associate, Shane Stant. While Kerrigan–to this day–feigns being upset over the whole thing, she should thank her lucky stars she was assaulted. It made her a household name and garnered her gazillions in endorsements. Yup, she went to Disneyland. And she even got pick-up attempts from guys like then quarterback Troy Aikman. The media gave us every detail of Kerrigan’s expensive, intricately sewn and beaded, lace Very Wang costumes (and put Wang on the map beyond the uber-wealthy), while Tonya’s attire was scoffed at as chintzy. But for the incident, Kerrigan wouldn’t–to this day–be getting invited to speak at corporate gigs for tens of thousands of dollars per, and she wouldn’t have made millions on national ice skating tours, which, today, are largely passe.

For a New York minute, every girl suddenly wanted to take up skating. Now, it’s not so popular in our Facebook/social media culture, where exercise and athletics take a back seat to selfies and YouTube videos.

Tonya Harding, while it was kinda clear she knew about the criminal attack, had her gigs, too . . . though they were low-class, gawker-style celebrity boxing and reality show fare. I remember that my parents–my mom, especially–rooted for her at the Olympics (she came in a distant eighth, after her laces broke). They felt she was the underdog who was pilloried in the media unfairly because she was seen as the less glamorous, “redneck” skater. There was definitely piling on, and at that point, it hadn’t been proven whether or not Harding was in on the knee-whacking.

Both she and Kerrigan came from working class backgrounds, but Kerrigan’s family appeared to spoil and sacrifice everything for her, as many Olympic families do, to the detriment of the other kids. Kerrigan’s brother recently got out of jail after an altercation with Kerrigan’s dad resulted in his heart attack and death. You can’t help but wonder what he’d have been like or if that would have happened had he not grown up in a working-class family that focused its attention and resources on an Olympic dreams of just one of the kids.

In truth, Kerrigan was just as tacky–if not more so–than Harding, but she got a pass because she was better looking. (That’s show biz.) Kerrigan, most recently, had a gig as a Winter Olympics correspondent on “Entertainment Tonight” just after her dad died, in which she essentially said, “Hey, my dad just died. Now look at me have fun sliding down this cool snow slide. Wheeee.” And don’t forget, she married her much older then-sports-agent, Jerry Solomon, with whom she was having an affair while he was married. Tonya Harding wasn’t so bad, after all. Was she? Distasteful, maybe. But the two were water that rose to the same not-so-high level.

In the 20 years since, much has changed. No one broadcast of any sport (or anything else)–except maybe a Superbowl–can garner the attention of that many eye balls. These chicks were the original reality show. And it couldn’t have been scripted better.

Lower Olympic ratings since then and far decreased interest in ice skating are evidence of that.

Still, we’ll always have that sound effect, “WHY? WHY? WHY?”

And if you think I was tacky for using it, you ain’t got a sense of humor to speak of.

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23 Responses

I still like the movie “Ice Princess” from around 2005. I saw it based on the positive review you gave it.

Little Al on January 6, 2014 at 5:36 pm

A timely follow-up regarding the lengths the media will go en masse to deify victimhood, demonize its hand-picked “bullies”, and never let up. Enjoyed it.

Andrew on January 6, 2014 at 6:21 pm

Not too many people know it, but competitive skating was filled with dirty tricks. Skates (such as Tonya Hardings) were sawed down by opposing skaters, shoe laces were cut, etc.

Tonya Harding was the better skater, yet the press focused all attention on the prissier skaters.

What’s amazing to me is how accepting the press, and the companies that hired Nancy Kerrigan so easily overlooked the fact that she was shtooping a married man (Solomon). Not so miss goody two shoes as the press made her out to be.

Jonathan E. Grant on January 6, 2014 at 6:31 pm

I thought Kerrigan was crying, “why me, why me?”

lexi on January 6, 2014 at 7:04 pm

I was a kid at the time, but I remember this. One point I remember very clearly was Kerrigan, “America’s sweetheart” in her 13th or 14th minute of fame getting the Disneyland parade treatment and whining every step of the way. Don’t know if the facade was cracking or if reporters were sick of covering for her by then, but a brief glimpse of something of an obnoxious personality leaked out there. Apparently she was also caught crapping and moaning after the Ukrainian girl beat her for the gold but I don’t remember that from the time.

I was never aware of her shenanigans with a married man, or that she later married him herself (naturally adopting the feminist tactic of refusing to take his surname…) but it isn’t too surprising. I don’t know that I would root for Tonya Harding were it all to happen again – more likely I’d say “meh” and change the channel – but it’s certainly among the obvious examples of the needless phony stories the sports media love to throw into the mix when they’re afraid too many people won’t care about the event itself.

That said only a month until we get an endless barrage of the same sort of pointless crap, cheerleading any and every gay, bi, or confused athlete facing “adversity” in their two week stay in the sheltered Olympic community that happens to be in Putin’s “horrifically anti-gay” Russia (that is less actively anti-gay than most Muslim states, but the media tends to forget about those places).

Brian R. on January 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm

“but she got a pass because she was better looking.”

I didn’t think so. I always had a huge crush on Tonya.

DS_ROCKS! on January 6, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Count me in as a Harding fan.

    Kerrigan seemed so fake and manufactured that I couldn’t bear looking at her.

    Mind you, before the Kardashian/Hilton/Octomom sex tapes, Tonya had her honeymoon tape leaked out.

    And you thought that celebri-tardation was a recent trend, eh?

    The Reverend Jacques on January 6, 2014 at 11:38 pm

I agree with DS and the Rev.J, Tonya was the better looker.
Nancy Kerrigan appeared on SNL too BTW and let me tell you, acting was not a better career choice for her either. She stunk like the melting plastic she was made of. By my vote, the worst guest host performance ever. That has to be one night that never makes ‘The Best of’.

theShadow on January 7, 2014 at 12:28 am

Ah, Debbie. I could have lived a peaceful life without being reminded of this trash. Are you having an off day, that this idiocy needed to be rehashed? these two never-were’s had been forgotten. Bummer. Looking forward to your reviews on Church’s show on Friday! Be well.

Billiam on January 7, 2014 at 8:39 am

I do believe that Nancy should have won the gold medal that year. Oksana made a minor mistake, but Nancy was flawless. This is why I don’t like figure skating, as the judging is so unfair. The same thing happened to Paul Wylie. He won the silver, but should have won the gold. This is because the judges did not consider him to be an elite skater, even though his performance was better than the gold medalist’s performance.

As for Nancy, I heard a story once about her regarding an autograph. A little girl asked for her autograph on a plane. Nancy refused and told the little girl, “If I sign one for you, I’ll have to sign one for everyone on the plane.”

Jean on January 7, 2014 at 9:37 am

Why are most male figure skaters homosexuals? I mean, its out of proportion to their percentage of the whole population.

FriscoKid on January 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm

I remember my wife and I begin repulsed by Kerrigan’s whining and awkward skating style. Thanks Debbie for the information regarding Kerrigan’s adultery. I find it hard to believe that Harding knew beforehand that the 3 idiots would put a hit on Kerrigan’s knee. Maybe Solomon’s wife at the time hired them.

Concerned Citizen on January 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Hey Debbie thanks for the memories. I was in the Navy stationed in the Bay Area of Caulifernia when this happened. The local liberal hack news station kept playing the Why?, Why? Why? moaning of Kerrigan over and over again. Poor Tonya had to be the villain to a heroine that was way overrated. Kerrigan only got by on her looks and her see all of her teeth smile. To me at the time Harding was not only better looking but a much better skater. Now 20 years later I see Harding on TruTV’s Presents Worlds Dumbest and not a peep out of Kerrigan.

Ken B on January 8, 2014 at 7:53 pm

This was pointless and nasty article. Why pick on Nancy Kerrigan at all twenty years after she skated in the Olympics?

Pete on January 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm

I was in the Harding camp. But Tonya’s tough chick personnae wasn’t personnae; it’s what she was. And she had no one to counsel and guide her in a productive way. Tonya Harding was Pink to Nancy Kerrigan’s Taylor Swift. And frankly, Tonya Harding was flat out the most athletic skater in that Olympics, and probably the least graceful.

gmartinz on January 10, 2014 at 9:51 pm

Kerrigan better looking? Where? She was very plain looking. She was a BIG girl which made her look ungainly. Tonya on the other hand was, petite, cute and graceful on the ice. Harding was also the better skater. She did 3 1/2 rotations on her jumps followed by a double. Something most female skaters have never done including Kerrigan. Harding was indeed a powerful skater. It was a sad, sad day when she met Jeff Gillooey. It was then her career started to suffer.

I have met both of these skaters. I would take Harding over Kerrigan any day. She was far more personable than Kerrigan and still is. On the ice, Harding was all business, off the ice, she was friendly and bubbly. Kerrigan was always aloof and demanding. Kerrigan KNEW Harding was better like.

Btw: Harding was also the victim of sabotage, but you never hear anything about it. Other skaters have been sabotaged, but you don’t hear about them either. That incident with the baton made Kerrigan a multi millionaire. Honestly, I believe she has bled it for all it’s worth.

Rowwdy on February 22, 2014 at 11:26 am

We teach our children by example and one of the focus’ now is on anti-bullying. Just today, an Australian actress was found dead, likely a suicide due to depression after years of bullying. Then we read articles such as yours, written by adults, doing thus very thing. Everyone, whether it be Nancy or Tanya, is trying to make it in this challenging world. Some with good judgement, some not so good. Especially when we are young. And the media certainly doesn’t help. I only brought your site up to view a few different perspectives. What a waste. Shame on you.

Filbert Wollens on February 23, 2014 at 8:07 am

What a slanted piece of journalistic crap. Having just watched NBC’s story of Kerrigan – Harding it’s very clear Nancy is a class act and several incidents like the Disney bashing story were due to the media selling a story – all about the money. Just like this sensationalistic article, it’s all about the money, isn’t it? Blaming her father’s heart attack on her when it was due to his son choking him? It’s also obvious Harding is a defensive angry liar who won’t ever own up to the truth. The follow-up interview with Costas further points to the grace Nancy with which Kerrigan now lives her life.

Herrick Burgess on February 23, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Nancy is the classier, better looking girl and definitely the better skater. Tonya has a fat ass along with no class. Look how Tonya aged, she’s clearly not taken good care of herself with smoking and drinking. Nancy could outshine tonya any day of the week.

Donna McLaughlin on February 23, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Wow. What a hateful attitude. You lost ALL credibility when you said Kerrigan was a ‘nobody’ prior to her attack. Hello? She was an Olympic medalist 2 years prior, and a closely watched contender at US and World competitions. Hardly a ‘nobody’. If she were a ‘nobody’ she wouldn’t have been attacked by that crew of low-brow losers, led by Harding, in the first place .

P K on February 24, 2014 at 2:37 am

Despicable article.

CJ on February 25, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Yeah Nancy married her agent. Watching the 30 for 30 Tonya bitches about Nancy’s endorcements and how she was treated. I was thinking if you were doing a big time agent you could have gotten those deals to.

Lizzie on January 10, 2015 at 1:43 am

” It made her a household name and garnered her gazillions in endorsements. Yup, she went to Disneyland. ”

Yes, where mics caught her saying “This is soooo corny. This is the corniest thing I’ve ever done.” Which then led her getting invited to host “SNL” – more publicity – to which she played up the “corny” thing for the entire show.

Martel on January 8, 2018 at 12:38 pm

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