A Lesson in Apologizing

For the past decade, fans have witnessed a variety of controversies involving athletes, from performance-enhancing drugs investigations to publicized sex scandals. The best part of these controversies is just as exciting as finding out “Who shot JR?” — the jock apologies.

Jock apologies come in different forms and content. Some athletes have their coach apologize on their behalf, others use Twitter. Some attend press conferences to deliver Oscar-worthy speeches that state their sincere regrets, while others attempt to bring sympathy to themselves and justify their behavior.

Pete Rose said he at least never gambled against the Reds, his own team. Marion Jones cried on Oprah that she took steroids because she never loved herself enough.  Apology or not, welcome to life under the public’s magnifying glass.

One unusual controversy that fans witnessed was the national broadcast of LeBron James’ “Decision” last summer. Countless journalists decried James’ stunt to draw the national audience’s attention to announce that he was breaking up with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Roughly a year later, after defeating the Boston Celtics to enter the Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron unexpectedly apologized. Though the the sincerity of the apology was questioned, one thing is for sure — it certainly was not enough to make up for his immature act.

Maybe some sage words from Tiger’s wife can best resolve this issue. “Elin said my real apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come from my behavior over time,” Tiger said.

Assuming these were Elin’s  to Woods, it’s ultimately the athlete’s behavior that wins back the support from fans, and not his apology.

Countless athletes have done something wrong (or stupid) and apologized for their wrongdoings. But very few have redeemed themselves in the public eye.

Here are the steps to redemption, based on one of the most heinous criminals in the sports world, Michael Vick. Apology: Make it known that you are truly sorry to the public. After getting caught for holding a dog-fighting circuit in his mansion, Vick issued a public apology to the fans, the league and the animal rights groups that what he did was wrong. Of course, that did not stop the public from demonizing him.

Accept Full Responsibility: Pay the fine. Whether the penalty is five or six figures, you did something that damaged the sport’s  reputation, so pay for it. Jail time? Justice has no bias. Athletes are subject to the same punishment as commoners. Vick lost his contract, accepted the league suspension, spent 23 months in prison and met with PETA to raise awareness. But that still didn’t appease the nation from hating his guts. Humility: The final step. You can’t fake humility. It’s not meek or self-deprecating, but it’s assertive and confident. This is the ultimate sign that the athlete has truly learned their lesson.

Vick  acknowledged that a second chance to play in the league was a gift, but he never lashed back at those who demonized him. When he became the highest rated QB in the NFL in 2010, his maturity stood out after he misplayed the final snap against the Packers in the NFC playoff. In response to an interception on the final drive, he admitted, “I got greedy and took a shot at the end zone and didn’t throw the right ball I wanted to throw and then it got picked off.”

He accepted full responsibility that his mistake cost the Eagles a shot at the Super Bowl. Vick’s maturity certainly stood out in comparison to NFL icon Peyton Manning, who always comes up with excuses as to why he got knocked out of the playoffs (poor running game, injuries, bad luck).

These steps don’t make you the most beloved sports icon in the world, but they show sincerity. Admitting to wrongs, facing the consequences and practicing humility can bring people to forgive you. Although James’ “Decision” was trivial in comparison to Michael Vick’s crime, unlike Vick, James is still not forgiven.

Even though there’s no public fine for announcing a breakup on national television, James should take responsibility and come clean before the Cleveland-ites. He does owe the fans a lot. For starters, didn’t he openly promise the city that he would never leave until he brought the Cavaliers a championship?