On January 6, 1994, while in Detroit preparing for the U. National Figures Skating competition, skater Nancy Kerrigan was struck on the knee by an assailant. Within ten days, the perpetrator was identified as Shane Stant, an amateur hit man hired by competing skater Tonya Harding's bodyguard, Shawn Eckardt, and ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly. Harding, who went on to win the Nationals, claimed she was not involved in the attack. With two other men, Eckardt and Gillooly were charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit assault, and assault. On February 1, 1994, Gillooly plead guilty to racketeering; he was sentenced to two years in prison on July 14, 1994. On March 17, 1994, Tonya Harding entered a plea of guilty of conspiracy to hinder prosecution. She has remained steadfast in her denial of having any prior knowledge or involvement in planning the assault on Kerrigan.1.
By mid-February, Tonya Harding and this tale of amateur intrigue had been the top news story every day for weeks, as well as the subject of numerous jokes and other forms of folk communication. Never having been a follower of figure skating, or truth be told, of the Olympics, I was nevertheless fascinated by all this--not fascinated by the escapades of Tonya and her pals, but by the fascination of others.
Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were headlines not only in sports magazines such as "Sports Illustrated" and "Sporting News," but in national and local newspapers and weeklies such as "Time" and "Newsweek." They were on "ESPN," "CNN," and the network news programs. By mid-February, according to "Sports Illustrated" (Rushin, 1994), many of these journalists were no longer covering the Harding-Kerrigan story, but instead, were covering nations response to the immense amount of media coverage. .
"Why," I wondered? Why was I hearing jokes about Tonya Harding on "The David Letterman" and "Tonight" shows? Why were my friends at school talking so much about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, a skater we knew little about - and most had never heard of.