Todd Hartley: Takes one to know one
You may not have noticed, but this past week marked the 10th anniversary of the infamous Tonya Harding incident, in which Nancy Kerrigan got clubbed in the knee but nevertheless went on to an Olympic silver medal, and Harding got arrested but nevertheless went on to Celebrity Boxing stardom.Even people like me who couldnt care less about figure skating know what Tonya Harding looks like. She has transcended sports and even her own association with Kerrigan to become one of those things that American pop culture loves the most: Shes someone who is famous for being a loser, like Saddam Hussein or Bill Buckner or Screech from “Saved by the Bell.”Now, I know the appeal of schadenfreude, which is to revel in the misfortune of others, and I know that a lot of people might consider you a bad person for partaking in it. Im not one of those people. Its only natural to feel happy when you see someone who has it all topple and end up with a life that sucks worse than yours.In fact, for this 10th anniversary of Hardings defining moment, not only will I not chastise you for your schadenfreude, but I will nurture it. Musing on Harding got me thinking about some of sports lesser-known losers, and I thought it was about time they got their just due.Baseball, with its long history, is of course rife with famous losers. Youve got the Red Sox, the Cubs and Pete Rose, naturally. But thats not where schadenfreude really stems from. Schadenfreude comes from enjoying the suffering of individuals like Denny McLain, a pitcher for the Tigers in the late 60s.McLain has a place in baseball history as the last man to win 30 games in a season, having gone 31-6 in 1968. He won the Cy Young Award that year. A few years later he was indicted on drug trafficking and racketeering charges. He has been paroled briefly at times in the last 30 years but always seems to wind up back in prison, where he currently resides.And then theres Steve Howe, who made a mockery of major league baseballs so-called drug policy by testing positive for cocaine six or seven times. Each time hed get suspended, each time hed be allowed back, each time hed get picked up by some team desperate for pitching, and each time hed bring his addiction with him and fail another drug test.In basketball, home of the Portland Jail Blazers, seemingly all of whom have been busted for marijuana possession, theres no shortage of Steve Howes to choose from. The two most noteworthy, however, are Michael Ray Richardson and Roy Tarpley.Richardson, a lightning-quick point guard for the Nets in the 80s, was the mirror image of Howe, with a cocaine habit, multiple violations of NBA drug policy and more second chances than any one man deserves. Youll be happy to know he blew them all.Tarpley, a beefier version of Hakeem Olajuwon, lasted only briefly in the NBA, playing for the Dallas Mavericks. Despite limitless potential, Tarpley couldnt keep his nose away from the white stuff and was soon out of the league. Unlike Richardson, though, Tarpley could rarely keep it together long enough to get back on the court. He played just a handful of games after his initial suspension.In football, it would be easy to pick on Scott Norwood of the Bills, whose blown field goal attempt against the Giants started Buffalos string of four straight Super Bowl losses, or Barrett Christy of the Raiders, who got drunk on Bourbon Street, disappeared for three days and missed the Super Bowl. But that wouldnt be fair, because Norwood and Christy arent bad people, so instead I give you Lawrence Phillips.As a standout tailback at Nebraska, Phillips missed action after getting arrested for beating up his girlfriend. Despite this glaring character flaw, the St. Louis Rams selected Phillips early in the first round of the draft. Happily, Phillips was unable to hack it as a pro, and he couldnt stop getting in trouble with the law, so he was out of the NFL for good within a few seasons.None of these men, however, can hold a candle to Harding when it comes to public infamy. Thats why we love Tonya the way we do. Shes there for us to revile. So dont be ashamed, as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Hardings appearance on the scene, to go ahead and just feel happy that you arent her or one of the other losers on this list. I know I will.[Gold-medal figure skater Todd Hartley writes this column on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org]
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