Sorry, but these athlete apologies aren't believable

Mike Tyson, second from right, swings at a policeman after his 1997 Evander Holyfield ear-bite fight, for which he apologized.
Mike Tyson, second from right, swings at a policeman after his 1997 Evander Holyfield ear-bite fight, for which he apologized.
Published April 12, 2012

I no longer believe in apologies. If that offends you, as athletes often say, I'm sorry.

I no longer believe in the tear in the eye or the slump of the shoulders or the quiver in the voice. I do not believe in the fiction of a rehearsed repentance while the cameras are rolling. I do not believe in pardons simply because an athlete recites what his scriptwriters wrote in order to salvage his reputation, his career or his current employment.

Instead, I believe in what a person does.

Also, I believe in the science of "what he said the first time."

They run together, all these never-ending apologies in the aftermath of never-ending stupidity. They repeat the same phrases in the same practiced sorrow, and they all sound alike, and they all sound hollow, and they all sound insincere. Listen to enough of them and it will leave you hard-hearted, and it will leave you cold-blooded, and it will leave you deaf in case a legitimate apology comes along. As if that will ever happen.

So, no, I do not believe Ozzie Guillen is sorry about anything except the heat on his backside.

And, no, I do not believe that Bobby Petrino is sorry about anything except his sudden unemployment.

I don't believe Tiger Woods is sorry for throwing a tantrum, and I don't believe Sean Payton is sorry for the Saints' bounty program, and I don't believe the Bulls' Joakim Noah really felt bad about what he said to a referee recently. I don't believe in the recent apologies by either Ryan Leaf or the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It is all blather. These days an apology is not about regret. It's about an athlete or a coach or a team trying to hit reset in the days following a seismic brain cramp. Mostly it's about not getting fired or suspended or castigated.

For instance, wouldn't you have a greater appreciation of Guillen if, instead of trying to act as if his words had been a victim of a bad translation, he had sat down and said this:

"Good morning. I'm Ozzie. I said a very stupid thing at a very stupid time. It's no excuse, but I tend to do that. The problem here wasn't about language. It was about history. I had no idea of how many lives Castro has ruined or the depth of the passion that Cuban-Americans have because of it. From now on, I pledge to just shut up when someone asks me questions that are over my head. In the meantime, I am very, very lucky to get off with a five-game suspension. Thank you for not firing me. Yet.''

Then there is Petrino, who everyone knew wasn't a good guy when he arrived on campus at Arkansas. He got caught with a mistress on a motorbike. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think they were on their way to church.

Here's what Petrino should have said:

"Hi there. I'm a middle-aged man with a motorcycle and, as you all know, a complete lack of morals. She is pretty, and I am a pig, and frankly, I think you should applaud my recruiting skills. Now I have to go home and get really punished by my wife. I'll leave through the back door, and you can say hello to your new coach, former Sen. Gary Hart. Thank you.''

In other words, give us a little truth, okay? As far as changing minds go, it will do as much as one of these apology tours.

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In recent years, there have been so many. Mike Tyson has apologized for biting, and Bill Romanowski has apologized for spitting, and Marion Jones has apologized for juicing. Pete Rose apologized for gambling once he could find a profit in it, and Serena Williams apologized for both times she verbally abused a referee, and Kobe Bryant apologized for cheating on his wife, although the rest of his statement was kind of muddled about what was consensual and what was not. Gilbert Arenas apologized for bringing guns into the locker room, Fuzzy Zoeller apologized for insensitivity, and Woods worked in an apology for chasing women while chastising the media for chasing him.

On it goes. Alex Rodriguez. Rafael Palmeiro. Randy Moss. Bill Belichick. Andy Pettitte. Ben Roethlisberger. Ben & Jerry's.

Let me ask you this: Did any of them apologize before they were caught? No, they did not. There wasn't a lot of guilt or shame. Many of them suggested they were sorry "if I offended anyone.'' Well, of course you did. You were offensive. I suspect that if he hadn't been caught, Petrino would be headed somewhere right now on his motorcycle, and he wouldn't be alone.

The amusing part of this is that no one else believes in these apologies, either. Not the fans and not the media and not the athletes themselves. It's all a big show. Disgraced athletes may be sorry they are in the headlines, and they're sorry they may lose their jobs, and they're sorry about the size of a possible divorce settlement. Anything else is just crisis management. Anything else is just a plea for an eraser.

Sorry? That's a word to describe the current state of a disgraced athlete's image. Nothing more.