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Nancy Kerrigan and Samuel Sheinbein

Twenty years ago, Nancy Kerrigan was clobbered in the knee by Shane Stant.  After the attack, she didn’t know if she would get to go to the Olympics, skate again, even walk ever again, and the world held its breath as the details emerged tying the attack to a rival skater’s husband.  Every few years, the story is trotted out again: Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding.  And this year was no different.  Before the closing ceremony for the Olympics, they aired old footage coupled with new interviews of the skaters who both expressed disbelief that people were still talking about this story even though it took place in 1994.  They had both moved on with their lives; why couldn’t the general public?

We watched some of the documentary while we waited for the closing ceremony to begin, even though I rolled my eyes when it came on.

“Again?  We need to hear about Nancy Kerrigan again?” I asked.

“Who is Nancy Kerrigan?” the ChickieNob questioned.

“Every generation needs a retelling of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tanya Harding story,” Josh intoned.  “Every generation gets the retelling it deserves.”

“Exactly, who is Nancy Kerrigan,” I pointed out.  “She’s a skater.  Just like any other past Olympic skater that we can’t really remember because we’re not ensconced in the skating world.  This coverage belongs back in 1994.”

I’m done.  Nancy Kerrigan.  Tanya Harding.  I don’t need the 24-year recap at the next games.


Image: Maria Cabello via Flickr


Seventeen years ago, Samuel Sheinbein and Aaron Needle killed and dismembered Alfredo Enrique Tello, Jr.  It was a gruesome crime.  The killers were students a few years behind me at one of the local Jewish Day schools.  Aaron Needle killed himself in jail.  Samuel Sheinbein fled to Israel, utilizing the Right to Return law.  And since Israel had a policy of not returning criminals to places that had the death penalty, they kept and tried Sheinbein, sentencing him to 24 years in an Israeli prison.

It was a very tense time here both because everyone was local, the families were known, and it brought up the Right of Return.  The law was meant to make immigration easier, not to protect criminals.  But it was being exploited by a murderer, and the community was up in arms.  Scratch that: the country was up in arms.  It was a case that gutted us on so many levels: affluence vs. poverty, troubled teens not being reached, Right of Return, murder.

This weekend, my mother and I were looking up something else online when I saw the front page of Yahoo announcing Sheinbein’s death.  He had been involved in a shootout in the jail after he got hold of a gun.  He fired on the prison guards, and he was killed by a SWAT team.  It felt surreal to see his name pop up again in the news, to be reminded of all the discussion that surrounded the first crime.

I spent the night reading articles online about the shoot out, going back to reread old newspaper clippings online from his first crime.


That need to return to a story is so personal.  I don’t even mean on a crime level.  I’m talking about our need to rehash personal slights, old fights.  To keep bringing up incidents years after the fact; to remind the other person that we haven’t forgotten.  And then there are the stories that penetrate our collective consciousness; the Tanya Hardings and the Samuel Sheinbeins.  There are people who never want to think about either one again.  There are people who want to have the story retold.

And then there is the conflict that arises from those who need to look backwards from those who want to move on.  It’s usually the person who has done the harm that wants to move on.  Who doesn’t want to be reminded of how they messed up.  But sometimes, when we talk about these stories, we have a gut reaction to the retelling.  We have enough of Tanya Harding.  We want to hear more about Samuel Sheinbein.  Or vice versa.

Both stories continue and both stories are done.

And the newspaper cycle goes round and round.


1 a { 02.25.14 at 9:03 am }

I guess that a couple weeks worth of concurrent events isn’t enough to fill all the time slots for news coverage of the Olympics, so they have to pull up old stories. *eyeroll* Seriously – employ some reporters to go and find interesting information about current participants!

On the other hand, the story that has more personal meaning to you is more objectively interesting (well, at least to me), because it’s an unusual view of the workings of a foreign penal system. The tie-back to the US is just a backstory as to why we (the rest of the country) might hear about this. I mean, do prisoners get their hands on guns regularly in Israel? And do they let prisoners out on furlough regularly too? So many questions – and few of them (for me) are backward looking. Although, based on the severity of the original crime, the sentence and further actions are mystifying.

2 deathstar { 02.25.14 at 11:27 am }

Mmmm, sounds like my marriage.

I recently watched a news program about Ben Johnson. He wasn’t too thrilled to have the sum total of his life brought up as the “disgraced” Canadian sprinter for the rest of his life every time the Olympics came around. He wanted to live his life so his children would be proud to have his name. Frankly, I think I admired him more after I saw how he had done his own human revolution. The man was CRUSHED and he rebuilt his life and his esteem. And yes, even during this Winter Olympics, his name did come up in a negative way. It made me wonder if he or his family even watches the Olympics anymore because they are going to be reminded of his “disgrace”.

People still talk about past murders and more so the murderers. They make TV movies about them. We don’t talk about the lives of the victims and the shattered families, we talk about the lives of the murderers because we are fascinated with how human beings can do such things (even though we’ve been doing such things since time began). Sometimes we want to remember because of some sort of connection to the time or place or how we heard the news, what it meant to us personally. It becomes a part of our own personal consciousness.

3 Esperanza { 02.25.14 at 1:42 pm }

I actually just wanted a documentary about the Kerrigan/Harding fiasco and it was really interesting. I was pretty young when it originally happened, and I appreciated having a more complete understanding of what actually happened. The whole story is pretty fascinating, especially when you take into account the class war aspect, and the media’s influence in how each woman was portrayed.

4 loribeth { 02.25.14 at 3:00 pm }

As a longtime figure skating fan, I remember the episode very well. And while it was pretty bizarre, then & now, I too am a bit amazed that it continues to get so much attention. I never found Nancy to be a particularly compelling “heroine,” to be honest. I remember her making catty comments about having to wait for Oksana Baiul to reapply the makeup she’d cried off.

I can see a difference in the Sheinbein case you mentioned, though — it’s a new development/new information in an old story. There was nothing really “new” to talk about in the Nancy/Tonya story, it was just 20 years since & another Olympics was coming up.

I’ve never heard of the Sheinbein case before, but from what you’ve written, I would guess that its impact was deeper and more profound on more people than the Nancy/Tonya incident. While there have been some lasting consequences for the sport of figure skating, and while it IS a fascinating case when you look at the class & media coverage issues raised (as Esperanza noted), the people most affected by the whole thing were Nancy, Tonya & their families.

5 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 02.25.14 at 7:14 pm }

Well, I do think we need a retelling of some of these stories. Perhaps we’ve personally heard them enough times, I feel for those involved (moreso the victims) who want everyone to shut up now. Unfortunately we often get new players to tell us the same morals and then we can switch over. I guess it’s a blessing in a way when we can’t think of anyone new to fill that gap.

6 Katya { 02.26.14 at 2:39 am }

I think the difference between who wants to keep re-telling tales and who wants to move on is one more of personality than guilt. For example, there are some painful parts of my life that I would rather not re-live, though they weren’t my fault. I’ve already hashed all that out and worked through it as much as I can. Now I want to move on and never look back.

For me, the survival of my relationships with other people is dependent on my ability to forgive and forget, if the person involved is still trustworthy. Remembering everything bad anyone has ever said or done to me has only hurt my relationships.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts! The post was very thought provoking 🙂

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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