The situation is so strange. On the one hand, the large plastic tubs filled with letters of admiration still arrive at her parents' house in Stoneham, Mass. One girl, who started writing from Virginia, moved to California and still writes, numbering each letter in sequence at the top. The latest number was 184. There is a business schedule that is beyond belief; ties to 26 commercial entities; a study by Video Storyboard Tests that indicates that when it comes to endorsing products, Kerrigan is No. 2 only to Michael Jordan in popularity; a poll by the Children's Television Workshop that says kids choose her second behind actress Patricia Richardson of Home Improvement as "someone I would like to be my mom."
On the other hand, there are the burns. She is the defrocked Cinderella standing next to the pumpkin and mice. Comedians use her "Why meeeeeeee?" as a punch line. Sportscasters call her "not the brightest bulb...." Go into any bar and ask, and someone will call her a whiner and someone will call her worse. An image has been pulled and nibbled apart. Or maybe just lost.
"It's not hip to write something positive about Nancy Kerrigan," says Stan Feig, producer of Christmas on Ice, Kerrigan's current 16-city tour. "It's hip to knock her down. There are two kinds of people in the world, bulletproof and bullet-riddled. You see that in politicians. Ronald Reagan, he could do anything. Bill Clinton, if he walks across the street he's full of holes. Nancy, unfortunately, is bullet-ridden. She is taking the shots."
To list her public sins is to mention words and looks and attitudes and to sound as if you're talking about an unfortunate date on The Love Connection. What exactly did she do? Well, she said, "Come on, she's just going to cry," while waiting 26 minutes for the medal ceremony at last February's Winter Olympics after she had lost the gold to 16-year-old Oksana Baiul of Ukraine by a 10th of a point, the closest figure skating finish possible in the Olympics. That was probably the start. And a few days later she said, "This is the most corniest thing I've ever done," when she had to wear her silver medal while she stood next to Mickey Mouse in Disney World. And she said to a teammate, "I'm sorry, I sucked," and then, to a television camera, "You probably just loved that," during the recent made-for-TV Ice Wars competition in Providence. And she gave curt answers at press conferences. And, and, what? She wore a designer dress when she skated in Lillehammer? She didn't march in the closing ceremonies? She signed all those contracts for all that money, a reported $11 million in endorsements?
"What if she had been a man?" her mother asks. "Would there have been any of this? If she had been a hockey player, she could have been in a fight, and no one would have said anything after the game. Do you think any of this would have happened to a man?"
"What if she had won by a 10th of a point instead of lost by a 10th of a point?" her father, Dan, asks. "There wouldn't have been any of this ——."
Maybe. Or maybe one of the problems is that she is not a swan. After the grand hoo-ha was done—the eight-week run from when she was whacked on the right knee at the Nationals in Detroit to when she skated the long and short routines of her life yet finished second—she took off her skates, and she was not what she had been painted to be. She was human, not a fairy princess. She did not curtsy, she did not bow, and she did not have grace.
"Everything was blown up so big before the Olympics that everyone rushed to let out the air after the Olympics," Brenda says. "Nancy wasn't what they made her out to be before she skated, and she isn't what they make her out to be now. To find out who she is you have to go back. That's the only way. You look at a thing like Disney World, not wanting to wear the medal. I can show you a picture from a newspaper in Reading, Mass., that shows her, eight years old, with her first medal. She wouldn't wear it."
Of course, by the time Nancy stood beside Mickey in Disney World to launch her commercial relationship with Disney, she was 24 years old and being paid $2 million for her discomfort. But Brenda is a mother, and a mother worries about her only daughter. She worries how Nancy can handle such a heavy diet of negatives after such a rich diet of positives. She worries how anyone can keep going the way her daughter has, nonstop, really, from before Detroit until now.
There was an ice show that played 70 dates in 90 days—though, again, this was not a force-fed diet but a feast for which Nancy earned a reported $1 million. There are all the public-relations commitments, the exercise videos to be filmed, the television specials to be planned. There is the current ice tour lasting almost straight until Christmas. Where does it end? January was supposed to be a month off, but now there is a Disney special in the works. Nancy has caught—perhaps even given rise to—the gigantic wave that figure skating is riding, but at times she seems to be almost drowning in it. Maybe she'll rest in February? March?