The Askew Slant

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

The art of the phony apology is a difficult one, but thankfully society’s role models and athletes have mastered it.

The latest athlete to teach America’s youth how to apologize without meaning it whatsoever is Tim Hardaway. After Hardaway’s unbelievably offensive, yet candid, remarks in response to John Amaechi’s coming out of the closet, I was scared he might not apologize. After all, Hardaway plainly stated an opinion from which there was no turning back.

But then Hardaway came through, offering up a gem, first saying he “didn’t mean” what he said, later saying: “I don’t hate gay people … For me to say ‘hate’ was a bad word, and I didn’t mean to use it.”

Hardaway’s approach was textbook: claim you don’t “mean” the offensive comment; offer up no explanation as to why, then, the comment was made; and end by saying that the comment was either blown up by the media or taken out of context, as Hardaway did when he said: “It was like, you know, I had killed somebody. … I never knew that this was going to escalate that high.”

Supposedly, claiming hatred towards a community of millions is a big deal. Who knew?

Hardaway also managed to keep from showing his face to the national media, instead opting to issue his apology on a local TV news station in South Florida, as if all gays live in a 1,500-square mile area.

But Hardaway is not the only athlete to show us how to master this art form. Many athletes paved the way for him, issuing an array of hollow “statements” released to the media. It is truly an accomplishment when an athlete manages to apologize without ever actually uttering a word.

What is even better is that those “statements” are not even written by the athletes themselves. Come on, do you really think Mike Vick, who struggles to read an Airtran Airways transcript for Atlanta-area radio commercials and five weeks ago decided to hide a mysterious substance in a water bottle – the one item that ALL AIRPORT SECURITIES INVARIABLY CHECK – could put together a statement as coherent as: “First and foremost, I would like to apologize for my inappropriate actions with fans today…”?

Vick issued that statement after flipping off his own fans after a loss to New Orleans Nov. 26. His apology is therefore particularly noteworthy because he blew off the very people who pay his salary. Bold move, but I like it.

NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony similarly hid behind the veil of a typed statement after punching Mardy Collins in the face during an on-court fight at Madison Square Garden in December. Although the apology itself appeared to be honest and genuine, the failure to take responsibility, be a man, and appear himself in front of cameras to apologize ensured that Anthony delivered a sufficiently bogus apology.

But even when athletes appear in a press conference before the national media, they rarely fail to disappoint.

Take Terrell Owens, who only apologized publicly to the Philadelphia Eagles organization in Nov. 2005 after he was dismissed from the team because Owens was being, well, himself.

Owens appeared at a press conference, read a prepared (not by Owens himself, of course) statement, and proceeded to ignore a planned mention of quarterback Donovan McNabb. In one simple omission, Owens managed to tell us all, “I may be standing in front of you apologizing, but I did not craft any of these words myself and don’t mean one iota of what is coming out of my mouth.” We could learn a thing or two from T.O.

Other classic sports apologies worth noting include Ron Artest’s apology after inciting the worst sports melee ever seen in the U.S. (“I didn’t mean for the situation to turn out like it did…”); former pitcher John Rocker’s 1999 statement after making hateful comments directed at New Yorkers, gays and foreigners (“Even though it might appear otherwise from what I’ve said, I am not a racist.”); and, of course, former San Diego Chargers quarterback Ryan Leaf’s reading of an apology from a piece of paper after an altercation with a reporter, followed by Leaf crumpling up the statement and tossing it in his locker. What says sorry better than a discarded piece of paper?

But every once in a while, somebody bucks the trend and stands by an inflammatory opinion.

Take White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, who called Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti a homosexual slur last June. Guillen refused to apologize to Mariotti personally, citing his word choice as a mistake, not the attack on the columnist.

But Guillen did manage to throw in a keeper of a retraction, saying that in his home of Venezuela the term “fag” has no homosexual connotations, but instead refers solely to a man devoid of courage. Good save, Ozzie.

Thanks to the work of America’s athletes, our children will never feel the uncomfortable burden of taking full responsibility for their words and actions.

There will be no more Bob Knights, who make strong statements and refuse to back down. America will have a brighter, more spineless – er, flexible – society full of empty apologies that mean little but nonetheless make us all feel a little better inside. It’s political correctness, apology style.

Now, to anyone I may have offended in this column, I am truly sorry. While it was carefully planned and written, I didn’t mean any of it. Thank you for your understanding.

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]