A friend in Hollywood keeps me up on certain things, which is how I know the following: Nancy Kerrigan, and her agents, accepted an enormous business deal last week from Disney. It includes $450,000 for the rights to make a TV movie about her, plus her own ice show after the Olympics, plus five TV specials, plus her own book, plus a children’s book, plus her own video and a few other perks. The friend in Hollywood knows this, because he, too, was bidding for her TV movie. He lost to Disney.
So here we have two great American institutions, figure skating and Mickey Mouse, and both show that, beneath the happy faces, they are all about putting another dollar in the kitty. Kerrigan, who last month was struck once in the leg by an assailant, now flashes her toothy smile all across the TV set and her image makers rub their hands together and say “How much can we make off this baby?”
I have avoided writing about the Kerrigan-Tonya Harding story out of respect to real people with real problems in this city who don’t get FBI attention every time someone takes a whack at them. It is my small attempt at shrinking the pile of manure we have been force-fed since this thing happened.
I am not making much of a dent. But I know hypocrisy when I see it. The more people portray this as good (Kerrigan) versus evil (Harding) the more the business world — which couldn’t give a hoot about figure skating — cries out, “Please, let us hook up with the good part and make some money!”
Remember when Olympics were for amateurs? Financially, a winner already
I hate to break this to Cinderella lovers, but Nancy Kerrigan was not supposed to win a gold medal in Lillehammer. She still may not. She has a history of falling down in the biggest competitions — a more crude critic would say “she chokes” — and believe it or not, there are other skaters in other countries who are every bit as good, and maybe better. Figure skating is ruled by judges, and, at best, only one will be from America in the Olympics. And in Norway, Kerrigan has no home crowd advantage.
But it hardly seems to matter. She has already been anointed. Disney has promised her the ice show — which, based on everything I read, now seems to be the whole point of figure skating, to one day skate with Snoopy.
Kerrigan has that, thanks to her “enemy,” Tonya Harding, whom she really ought to thank. Saturday night, one week before the games, CBS aired an hour-long prime-time skating special entitled “Nancy Kerrigan and Friends.” An hour-long special? A week before the games? Correct me if I’m wrong here, but didn’t they used to save books and ice shows and prime-time TV specials until after you won your gold medal?
Not anymore. CBS just happens to be televising Lillehammer, and they know publicity when they see it. To open Kerrigan’s show, fellow skater Scott Wylie gushed, “And now. the moment we’ve all been waiting for! . . . “
Well, at least CBS, Campbell’s soup and Disney. As far as they’re concerned, we’re not sending a figure skater to Lillehammer. We’re sending Mother Teresa. Producing a class act
Now, let’s get something straight here. Nancy Kerrigan is a nice woman with a solid work ethic. But she is not a hero. She is a victim. Did she handle her relatively minor attack with dignity? Yes — and big deal. She had advisers, agents and spin doctors around her from the moment she was hurt. They told her when to keep quiet and how best to act. Is it “class” or good advice?
As for Kerrigan being a hero? Well. How about the countless crime victims in Detroit who have to go back to their daily lives even when injured, people who, if they miss two weeks of work — as Kerrigan did — don’t get paid? If CBS wants to do a special on them, I’m sure we could provide the cast.
Personally, I feel sorry for the other skaters heading to Lillehammer, who have trained as hard as Kerrigan and will be virtually ignored by the media, in favor of some misguided Cinderella syndrome. Unless you think the folks steering Kerrigan are some kind of angels, know this: In their recent
“negotiations,” Nancy’s agents at Pro Serve demanded that whoever got the TV movie name them as producers. Not that they know how to produce. They just wanted the money and the credit.
Which is what this story comes down to: money and credit. It’s funny. When the attack first happened, someone cynically suggested it was another skater. I said, “No way.” Now, someone could suggest that Kerrigan’s image-makers set the whole thing up, and you know what? I wouldn’t even blink.
Mitch Albom will sign his books “Fab Five” and “LIve ALbom III” at 7 p.m. Monday at Barnes & Noble, Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor.