Statement Analysis®

The Attack on Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan

In January 2014, ESPN Films did a documentary entitled "The Price of Gold." The film revisited the 20th anniversary of the assault on figure skater Nancy Kerrigan. On January 6, 1994, figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was preparing for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in Detroit, Michigan. The event was in effect the Olympic trials as the top two finishers would represent the U.S. in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. After finishing her practice session, an unidentified assailant struck Kerrigan above the right knee with a metal police baton. The injury was severe enough to keep Kerrigan from competing in the competition.

Shortly after the attack, the hit man was identified as Shane Stant. An investigation discovered that Stant had been hired by two individuals, Shawn Eckardt and Jeff Gillooly, to carry out the attack. Eckardt was the bodyguard for rival skater Tonya Harding and Gillooly was Harding's ex-husband. There was a lot of speculation as to whether or not Tonya Harding had anything to do with the attack.

On January 11, 1994, Tonya Harding gave a statement to the press in which she said, "I don't know for sure anything about what's going on at all." One thing to remember when analyzing a statement is that the shortest sentence is the best sentence; extra words give us extra information. We could shorten Harding's statement to say, "I don't know what's going on." That is a good statement. However, Harding qualified her statement by saying, "I don't know for sure." She was telling the whole world she knew something about the attack. She just didn't know "for sure" all the details. Sixteen days later we found out what she was withholding when she admitted that she failed to report things she learned about the assault after she returned home from competing in the National Championship.

We also see that in her statement Harding added the words "at all." These words are not needed for us the listener. The statement, "I don't know what's going on" tells us the person has no information to share. However, Harding needed to add these words to her statement. She knows she is withholding information. In an effort to convince us she is being truthful, she added the phrase "at all." This over emphasis is another sign she was being deceptive.

In 1998, CBS News did a story on the Nancy Kerrigan attack. Harry Smith interviewed Tonya Harding.

Smith: "Look me in the eye and tell me that you didn't know that your ex-husband and his friends were planning to attack Nancy Kerrigan."

Harding: "I swear on everything holy, may God strike me down, I did not know until three days after we got back from Nationals."

First, we see that Smith did not ask Harding a question but simply made a statement. Secondly, Harding used some phrases that indicate untruthfulness; "I swear on everything holy" and "may God strike me down." Deceptive people will often try and convince you they are telling you the truth by using phrases like "I swear on my mother's grave" or "Honest to God." Lastly, Harding says she did not know her ex-husband was involved in the attack until "three days" after she got back from the National Championships. When deceptive people have to come up with a number they will often use the number three. Unlike most of the Statement Analysis techniques, the deceptive signs we see in her answer are only an indication of deception and not an absolute.

The press release for "The Price of Gold" said the film featured interviews with Tonya Harding. However, it was not so much an interview but rather Harding commenting on what she went through during the scandal. Finally, in the last minutes of the show we find the following question and answer.

Interviewer: "Were you involved at all in the planning of--?"

Harding: "Of course not."

We see that Harding did not allow the interviewer to finish the question. Harding was anticipating the question. The most important part of this Q & A is Harding's answer, "Of course not." When people use the phrase "of course" they want us to take for granted what they are saying is true. However, we take nothing for granted. We only believe what people tell us. If a person says, "I was not involved" we can believe him. If he says, "Of course I was not involved" we have to believe he wants us to take for granted he was not involved. Harding does not answer this question with a "No." She cannot state, "No, I was not involved." Her language indicates culpability.

The film also showed what appears to be a direct contradiction. Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, told the authorities that Harding was involved in the plot to assault Nancy Kerrigan. He claimed that Harding called the Tony Kent Arena where Kerrigan was practicing to find out what time Kerrigan was scheduled to practice. It is believed the arena was a planned site for the assault. As proof of Harding's involvement, a note was found that had the name Tony Kent Arena written on it along with a phone number and some other doodling. On the show, Harding stated, "They tested the handwriting and was not mine." However, Norman Frink, the District Attorney for Multnomah County Oregon, stated, "We had the handwriting tested and it was identified as her handwriting." I don't know how many handwriting experts looked at the note. It is possible that one expert said it was Harding's handwriting and another expert said it was not her handwriting. Harding and Frink may be relying on their own handwriting expert. What I do know is that in her denial Harding gives a fragmented sentence; "They tested the handwriting and was not mine." She should have said, "And it was not mine" or "And the handwriting was not mine." The fragmented sentence indicates she was thinking about something else which caused her to not realize she gave a fragmented sentence. It is a slight indication she is being deceptive.

In March 1994, Harding pled guilty to hindering prosecution for not reporting what she learned about the attack. She was sentenced to three years probation. She was never charged with planning the attack. The United States Figure Skating Association banned her for life from figure skating.

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