John Wayne, in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, said, "Never apologize,
Mister. It's a sign of weakness." And he may have had a point,
for Davis Love III did look weak at the Ryder Cup while serially
apologizing--for his wayward shots--to playing partner Tiger Woods.
Evidently, Love means always having to say you're sorry.
Which may be why--among athletes, anyway--apologies are now deader
than the Duke. Who's sorry now? Hardly anyone, for anything. Time
was you could count on at least hollow apologies from your
heroes. So when Patton was ordered to publicly apologize for
slapping two soldiers, he spat out the apology as if it were a
piece of pork, Heimliched out of him by Eisenhower.
Patton was eventually relieved of his command, but then so was
Ryan Leaf. Four years ago the Chargers' quarterback read, in
monotone, a written apology (for manifold sins) that had been
drafted, Ike-like, by team management. Afterward, with cameras
still rolling, Leaf crumpled the statement into a tight ball and
flicked it contemptuously into his locker, hitting his intended
target for just the second time all season.
But at least Leaf said he was sorry. Not so Latrell Sprewell, who
broke his shooting hand this summer and never informed his
employer. The New York Knicks will still pay their convalescing
forward $12.37 million this season, even though Sprewell
reportedly incurred the injury by punching a man on his yacht.
So, while we're guessing which nautical-pun name graces Spree's
vessel--Buoyz in the Hood? Class-Sea Felony?--we might also mourn
the passing of the simple apology, which in death has been turned
on its head, like Ted Williams: The mea culpa is now a you-a
culpa, the sinner is now sinned against.
"Don't kick me when I'm down," Sprewell told the Knicks, through
The New York Times, after being fined about 1 1/2 games' pay.
"They always talk about us being a family, but now they're trying
to push me away from the family. I haven't done anything but try
to make this team better." If this sounds surreal, remember:
Sprewell's response after choking his coach five years ago was to
fire his agent and sue the NBA. Which brings to mind another
yacht name: Choke & Throttle?
Last month, after allegedly taking a Minneapolis traffic-control
officer for an invigorating (but, alas, unsolicited) ride on the
hood of his car, Vikings receiver Randy Moss wrote one of the
more exquisite public nonapologies of our time. For several
minutes his statement rambled dangerously, like an old man in
flannel pajamas near a busy road, before T-boning on the topic of
his own victimization. ("I've been through a lot.... I don't know
if trouble's out to find me, or whatnot.") And while Moss both
acknowledged and disavowed wrongdoing in the space of a single
sentence--"I knew they had to discipline me, for what reason I
don't know"--he ultimately saw fit to apologize to everyone but
the traffic officer: "My teammates, coaching staff, my immediate
family" and, of course, "all the people that endorse me: Nike,
Jumpman, Michael Jordan himself."
When judging the sincerity of an athlete's apology, one should
always bear in mind the Mister Ed Rule: Remorse is remorse, of
course, of course, unless it's for products that you endorse. In
which case remorse is a mere masquerade for financial expediency.
As to the other charge against him--that marijuana residue was
found in his vehicle--Moss was evasive. Had he simply stated that
weed is never allowed in his car, we might at least have gotten
the lively headline ROLLING MOSS GATHERS NO STONERS.
The last resort of the nonapologist is, of course, to cry Blown
Out Of Proportion (BOOP). Moss, in a press conference, said that
his story was BOOP. Steve Spurrier, while at Florida, disparaged
New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett, but recently Spurrier said
that that remark was BOOP. In a tidy tableau of what modern
sports have become, 49ers receiver Terrell Owens--in one seamless
motion--caught a touchdown pass on Monday Night Football, produced
a Sharpie from his sock in the end zone, autographed the ball and
handed it to his financial adviser in the front row. Owens didn't
apologize to his opponents, and neither, remarkably, did his
apologists: Niners center Jeremy Newberry said, "It's really
getting blown out of proportion." So here's the deal: Next person
to say Blown Out Of Proportion gets blown out of a cannon.
With apologies to Owens et al., no one has been less apologetic
for more years than Bob Knight, who once said memorably, "When my
time on Earth is gone and my activities here are passed, I want
they bury me upside down, and my critics can kiss my ass."
So Knight aspires to spend eternity upside down, like his fishing
buddy Teddy Ballgame, or like the apology itself. And though
Knight's hero was Patton, and his nickname is the General, and he
also emulates John Wayne, we might do well to remember that
apologizing isn't always a sign of weakness and can even be a
show of strength. John Wayne, remember, was just acting. And his
real name was Marion.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER GREGOIRE
Bear in mind the Mister Ed Rule: Remorse is remorse, of course,
of course, unless it's for products that you endorse.