|Tuesday, January 6
Updated: January 7, 12:43 PM ET
Tonya's fan 'club' still a hit
By Darren Rovell
It's been 10 years since Tonya Harding's ex-husband and her bodyguard put a hit on the right knee of fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan during a practice session of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit.
Although she claimed she had no prior knowledge of the assault, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiracy to hinder the prosecution, was stripped of her 1994 national title and was banned from amateur competition.
The assault on Kerrigan turned Harding into a cult figure and aspring business entrepreneurs have, time and again, tried to capitalize on her name brand.
A company called Revolution Gifts filed a trademark application for the "Batonya," which would be put on toy bats and balls. Thankfully, nothing was ever produced.
But a Minneapolis lawyer was for a time offering his invention called the Tonya Tapper, a metal stick with a rubber grip that was described as "a non-lethal defensive device" that cost $39.95.
The actual club apparently never reached a memorabilia auction. It's in the hands of the FBI, according to Lt. Mike Shults, spokesman for the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office near Portland, which had a hand in the early stages of the assault investigation. Federal sources said it was seized, though it's possible that it was destroyed since a guilty plea was entered.
Although the proposed club didn't go on sale, Tonya posters, fridge magnets and even "Tonya for President" buttons emerged around the time she got her first reference on The Simpsons.
One entrepreneur made "Tonya Harding St." signs.
"Makes a great decorator item for your room, home, club or office and makes a super gift for friends and family," the advertisement touts.
Soon came the books, which haven't exactly upheld their suggested retail price over the years. "Fire on Ice: The Exclusive Inside Story of Tonya Harding" is now available online for one cent.
For those taking a cross-country road trip, "Thin Ice: The Complete Uncensored Story of Tonya Harding" on cassette may not be an appropriate lesson on morals for the kids to listen to in the back seat of the minivan. And women's studies professors, of course, might consider having their class read "Women on Ice: Feminist Essays on the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan Spectacle" (Amazon Rank: 404,223) in their classrooms.
And who can forget the comic books? First Amendment Publishing produced "The Tonya Harding Story" and The River Group published "Whacked!: The Adventures of Tonya Harding and Her Pals."
In 1996, a group called "The Portland Ice Skating Society" emerged "to fill what we saw as a gaping lack of accurate, positive information about Tonya Harding on the Internet." Despite the moniker, the group hails from New Zealand!
One of the greatest Harding business entrepreneurs came on the scene four years ago.
Jon Farmer, an airline agent at Portland International Airport, marveled at how Harding continued to stay in the news and soon sought to capitalize off the city's local embarrassment.
He commissioned Joe Spooner, the cartoonist for The Oregonian, the local newspaper, to create a caricature of Harding with a cigarette in her mouth, skates in one hand, hubcap in the other and a trailer in the background. He then used the image as a label for his Tonya Hot Sauce.
It's motto: "A sauce not for the weak kneed!"
It's endorsement: "It's a lead pipe cinch you'll love it! -- N. Kerrigan."
Thanks to Harding's knack for finding her way back into the media spotlight, Turner said he has actually made some money on the novelty. He's sold more than 5,000 cases of the stuff -- 60,000 five-ounce bottles at $4.95 each -- and claims it's the No. 1 selling hot sauce in the Portland area.
"She keeps screwing up every four or five months," says Turner, who also sells "Jail Blazer Jam," a play on the troubled Portland Trail Blazers players who too often find themselves behind bars, and Gov. K's Budget Crunchies: "A portion of procedes (sic) from the sale of this product will go to Oregon's public schools. … Assuming, of course, there still is a school," the package promises.
"Every time she boxes, she hits somebody, gets busted for driving under the influence or gets evicted from her house, sales go up," he said. "This 10th anniversary thing should be good -- she's been pretty quiet the last three months and sales have fallen a bit."
In October 2002, Turner got a letter from a lawyer representing Harding telling him that he had to stop selling his hot sauce in one Oregon franchise called Made in Oregon. Turner says he responded by offering Harding a 25-cent royalty on every bottle, but Harding or her lawyer never responded.
"It only got my product more exposure," Turner said. "People thought I would have to stop selling them so people were buying cases and selling them on eBay for $30 a bottle."
It's not the only item associated with Harding that has been peddled in online auctions.
A couple days ago, a seller on eBay posted "Tonya and Jeff's Wedding Night." The movie, which was reportedly sold by her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly to a well-known adult media publisher was pulled from the site early Tuesday morning, after commanding eight bids over a two-day period. An eBay spokesman did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Unable to compete as an amateur skater and with little interest from professional skating companies forthcoming, Harding has made her way from the rink to the ring. A third-round TKO celebrity boxing victory over Paula Jones launched her boxing career in March 2002. Now a regular on the women's professional boxing circuit, she was the warm-up act for the Mike Tyson-Clifford Etienne heavyweight bout last February and carries a 3-2 record into her next bout against someone named Beth Westover on Jan. 24, perhaps not-so-coincidentally the 10th anniversary of her appearance on the cover of Time magazine.
Meanwhile, for those who weren't able to attend the Charleston Riverdogs' Tonya Harding Mini Bat Night, there's still new merchandise being minted on the Blades of Gold, a Web site maintained by Harding's former managers Greg and Linda Lewis. (Warning: expect a series of number of pop-up advertisements when accessing the link.)
Three new pictures of Harding are now available for $10 each and autographed holiday cards with a winter backdrop can be had for $50, $12 extra for overnight delivery! Those who want to go with the classics can buy the CD of Tonya signing Amazing Grace for $15. (Checks and money orders should be made out to Tonya Harding at a P.O. Box located in Vancouver, Wash.)
Amazing Disgrace was, for some reason, never recorded.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.