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Truth and consequences


ALL right. So we've established that in America you can shoot your parents in the back while they watch television (the two Menendez juries were hung), cut off your husband's penis or smash a brick into the head of a passing trucker because he happens to be white -- all without consequences.

Why not then take a metal baton to the knee of your prime skating rival? Heck, by current standards, Tonya Harding could have taken off Nancy Kerrigan's whole leg. Her excuse could have been early childhood abuse (which would have the advantage of being true). Or she could claim to have been the victim of an irresistible urge. Or she could explain that she was caught up in the mob psychology of competitive skating and therefore wasn't responsible for her actions.

We are living in a raw and uncouth time. Turn on the radio in search of news or weather, and you will hear programs in which the hosts ask callers for the most intimate details of their sex lives -- and callers oblige. MTV pumps soft pornography into living rooms 24 hours a day.

Our jokes are raunchy, our movies are bloody and our churches are politically correct. Children are robbed of their innocence at hTC an early age, urged toward a precocious sexuality that dims the wonder of childhood and replaces it with a smarmy pseudo-sophistication.

Someone, somewhere must reintroduce the idea that actions have consequences. That lesson is certainly not taught in schools -- where even the most disruptive students are permitted to remain in classrooms lest their civil rights be violated. It is obviously not enforced by the jury system. And it is not enforced in the world of sports.

John McEnroe and Ilie Nastasie make a mockery of the term "gentlemen's tennis." People who curse at the umpire or extend their middle finger should be barred from the game -- not admonished, not fined, but banned.

It doesn't matter if the offenders are superb athletes. Their ugly behavior diminishes the elegance of the sport more than their skill enhances it.

Ice hockey games routinely disintegrate into free-for-all shoving and punching matches. Basketball, I am told, has become nastier and more aggressive in recent years.

Sure, the stakes are high. Of course, the pressure is intense. And no one is asking athletes to behave, at all times, like choir boys. But a little modesty, a sense of proportion, would go a long way.

The Olympic gold medal in figure skating is said to be worth $10 million. In "A Man for All Seasons," Sir Thomas More, at his trial, looks at the medal of office worn by his (false) accuser, Richard Rich, and says "Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world -- but for Wales?"

There is every indication that Tonya Harding was willing to give her soul for the Olympic gold medal. I do not know this for certain. And it is true that, in a court of law if not in public opinion, we all stand innocent until proven guilty. But I believe she is responsible, at least indirectly, for the attack on her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.

Why? Because it was her entourage that allegedly planned and executed the sordid business. It is difficult to imagine that in the small circle which had Tonya at its center, there was not a great deal of banter and joking about "taking out" rivals before the talk turned serious. Tonya, as the leader, was responsible for setting a tone. She may have said something -- perhaps misunderstood by her companions -- along the lines of King Henry II's famous lament about Thomas Becket: "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?"

Henry did penance for that remark by being whipped publicly.

Tonya's story is a sad one. She could have been such an inspiration -- the extraordinary child from the wrong side of the tracks who made it to the Olympics by dint of sheer talent and determination.

But she seems to have succumbed to greed, viciousness and foul play. If she is permitted to win this way and represent the United States, it will be a blow to more than figure skating.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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