I can’t believe it’s been 25 years since Tonya Harding’s idiotic posse teamed up to whack Nancy Kerrigan on the knee at Detroit’s old Cobo Arena as she came off the ice after practicing for the U.S. Figure Skating “nationals.” But my brain was similarly whacked into “distant memory phase” by a story in today’s Detroit Free Press marking that event since, for the first time since it happened, the nationals are back in the Motor City, although they’ve moved to the new Little Caesars Arena.
I remember the event because I covered it for CNN. I actually started the day in Lansing, stuffed in a holding room with several dozen other members of the media, awaiting a court ruling related to suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian. At some point a local TV news reporter got an urgent call from her assignment desk. “Holy shit!,” she yelled to the room, “Nancy Kerrigan’s knee got whacked! Who the fuck is Nancy Kerrigan?”
No one answered at first, and then, sheepishly, I had to come clean and inform her Nancy Kerrigan was one of the top U.S. figure skaters. My fellow reporter was not impressed. Remember, this was 1994 and in a room of hardened journalists not known for their personal filters. “Why do you know that?” she hollered at me. “Are you fuckin’ gay?” See? No filter.
“Um, my wife and I kinda follow figure skating, and if this is true it’s a big fuckin’ deal,” I replied. See? No personal filter and reporters like to use the term “fuckin’” a lot.
Moments later, we all got paged, yes, paged (1994). We called the numbers on our little devices and were all ordered by our various news organizations to scramble back to Detroit (90 minute drive) and follow this breaking story.
There wasn’t much to get at first except a few accounts from people who may have been near the scene of the whacking, and get statements from the Detroit Police Department and the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
The next day we covered a news conference held in an area of the concourse Joe Louis Arena, where the actual competition was being held. Nancy Kerrigan would be saying a few words and taking some questions along with her coach and USFSA officials. Before the newser could begin, we almost had another incident to cover that had the potential to be even more cataclysmic than the assault of a prominent figure skater. A still photographer from one of the wire services pulled over a chair that she could step on to get an unobstructed shot of the speakers. At that moment some lackey from ABC attempted to get her to move saying “I’m from ABC and we own this event and you can’t be there so you have to move.” The poor guy didn’t know who he was dealing with. Well known among the Detroit press corp as a no-nonsense shooter, she casually replied with “I’m not moving. This is an open press event and if you come near me I’ll probably kick your skinny ass. Now..I’m working…you fuckin’ (see?) moron.” He disappeared without a word… ostensibly to change his pants.
The news conference was carried live on CNN and my wife was watching. Kerrigan was wearing a blazer with a unique tweedy-checked pattern. When I got home my wife was not happy. “I was gonna buy that same blazer from the Spiegel catalogue. Now I can’t. Everyone will think I’m copying her.”
I think I stayed on the story for maybe a day or two more and then, as CNN is wont to do, moved me to something else. Besides, we had three local affiliates in Detroit who were obsessed with the story and we could always grab stuff from them. This freed me up to be sent all the way to International Falls, Minnesota to do a story on “the coldest town in America.” Turns out that on that day, Detroit was 10 degrees colder. Fuckin’ CNN.