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Z_CNHI News Service

May 13, 2014

Public apologies the newest addition to the playbook

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.”

― Benjamin Franklin

I’ve wondered what it must be like to be a priest and listen to people reveal their sins and ask for forgiveness. Confession, they say, is good for the heart.

In the last week or so it seems as if every press conference or interview contains someone's apology. Athletes and those who own teams have tripped over themselves making foolish remarks, then trying to clean them up with clumsy excuses or insincere explanations.

Donald Sterling, billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, used his own words to disgrace himself and now hopes the public will excuse his racist comments, captured on tape, as a “terrible mistake.”

Sterling's hope is that an 80-year-old man who spent much of his adult life running a professional basketball team is entitled to be forgiven for a momentary lapse. Does anyone seriously believe it was his first mistake? If it was, embarrassing the NBA, his team, players and the family's reputation was a whopper.

Perhaps Sterling should take comfort in knowing that he has plenty of company.

Comments by two athletes in response to the St. Louis Rams’ selection of Missouri lineman Michael Sam in the seventh round of the NFL draft created a firestorm.

Fans across the country were watching to see which team, if any, would select Sam, the first openly gay player expected to be drafted.

The Miami Dolphins' Don Jones, a defensive back, tweeted the word “horrible” after Sam was taken with the 249th pick of the draft and shown kissing his boyfriend on ESPN.

Given all the problems the Dolphins struggled with last season when a bullying scandal became front-page news, the last thing anyone would have expected was a Miami player embroiled in another controversial mess. The Dolphins responded quickly, fining Jones and suspending him from team activities. Miami Coach Joe Philbin said Jones’ remarks were inappropriate and unacceptable.

Jones attempted to retrieve his comments, but the damage was done. “I take full responsibility for them and I regret that these tweets took away from his draft moment,” he said in a statement released by the Dolphins.

Former Mississippi basketball standout Marshall Henderson - another collegian who lived and died with his antics - stirred it up with a tweet about Sam, as well. He criticized ESPN for televising Sam celebrating his draft selection.

If nothing else, give Henderson credit for offering a surprising explanation about why he opted to comment: Henderson said he did so at the request of a gay friend who was struggling with whether to tell his family about his sexual orientation. Perhaps the feedback from the tweet, they thought, would gauge public reaction.

Believe what you will, but it shouldn’t have been difficult to predict the response.

Social media has changed the world in so many ways. Comments that would never have been considered for publication before the Internet now go flying at warp speed.

Just because a person can make a comment doesn’t mean he should. There are consequences - a fact some people forget until too late.

Henderson told ESPN he expected to initiate discussion, just not as strong a response as his comment received. “I saw their reactions and thought we’ve got something brewing here,” he said. “I knew I was sticking my neck out there doing it, but I wanted to see how people reacted.” The former Ole Miss star said the episode left his friend scared.

People have said crazy things for a long time, so there’s no reason to think there’s been a recent outbreak of stupidity. What’s new is the simplicity of communicating to a large audience.

A quote variously attributed to Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and others notes the importance of selecting words judiciously:  “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

Now that’s something worth tweeting.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

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