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Bob McNair, Harvey Weinstein and the era of the dumb apology

October 30, 2017
Houston Texans v Seattle Seahawks

Otto Greule Jr

Human beings cannot go backwards in time; hence, the apology.

And I'm not here to knock it, believe me. The errors we commit are locked into history forever, so the apology serves an important function. In the absence of removing the original sin, this is the closest thing we have to erasure. It lets us express regret and tell everyone—our victims and our neutral audience both—that we understand the norms of behavior, that we appreciate them, and that our mistake was an aberration. It reassures the people who count on us that we're back on the straight and narrow, it placates the wronged party, and, ideally, it leads to self-reflection and improved behavior.

So, yes, the apology matters. But somehow, even as human beings have grown smarter and more savvy, our apologies have become infinitely worse. Some public leaders, like our president, have eschewed the apology altogether, determined not to retreat even a step in the face of critics. And frankly, there's a dark honesty to that tactic, and it's a least a fraction better than the insulting, ridiculous apologies emanating like noxious gas from other mouths. Take Harvey Weinstein. How did he respond to revelations of a lifetime engaged in vile behavior rising to the level of sexual assault and rape? With some mealy-mouthed excuse about "the '70s," and by promising to do a better job of fighting the NRA. Yes, the NRA...because the National Rifle Association is totally relevant to his criminal sexual past.

You couldn't write a more insincere, meaningless apology if you tried. Essentially, he took a current event that he knew liberals were fired up about—gun control—and tried to shift the discussion there, to establish a common enemy, and divert attention from the fact that he's a loathsome sex offender. With such a transparent attempt to shift the narrative, Weinstein actually managed to tell us something important—that he's nothing but a calculating self-preserver who really, really doesn't feel an ounce of remorse for his actions. Therefore, the apology is bogus.

But Weinstein is not alone. Stupid apologies have become so predominant that they threaten to undermine the institution itself. And the idiocy has trickled into sports. On Saturday morning, I noticed a trend in ESPN's top headlines:

Now, this is not a dig at ESPN. I'm sure these were the biggest stories of the day. But there's never been a clearer indication that we're in the Dumb Apology Era. Let's look at the individual stories:

1. Apologetic McNair meets with Texans: This stems from an incident in which Texans owner Bob McNair, in a meeting with other owners, used the phrase "we can't have the inmates running the asylum" in regards to the players protesting the anthem. In a follow-up apology the next day, he said that he wasn't referring to the players, which even other owners at the meeting said was total BS. Then, in the meeting with the Texans referenced in the ESPN headline, he repeated what he said in the statement. The result? Nobody believed him, nobody respected him, and the Texans intend to hold a demonstration in Sunday's game.

2. Astros' Gurriel apologizes for mocking Darvish: Yuli Gurriel hit a home run against Yu Darvish in the World Series, and then used his fingers to make his eyes into narrow slants—the oldest racist gesture against Asians in the books. Here's what Gurriel said afterward: "I did not mean it to be offensive at any point...quite the opposite. I have always had a lot of respect [for Japanese people]. ... I've never had anything against Darvish. For me, he's always been one of the best pitchers. I never had any luck against him. If I offended him, I apologize. It was not my intention." his take is that it was a gesture of respect? Can anybody possibly believe that? If he had said, "I did something racist, and I'm going to try to be better," maybe you'd take him at his word. But this is an unambiguous declaration that he was racist, he feels no remorse, and all he really cares about is not getting in trouble. (Side Note: The best and quickest way to identify a terrible apology is that instead of containing the words "I apologize for my actions," there's an exculpatory twist like "I'm sorry if anyone was offended." Words like those show that the true intent is not to express regret, but to deflect.)

3. Redskins' Pryor apologizes to teammates, fans: You know what? This actually looks like a good apology. Pryor admits that he struggles with not getting the ball more often, but also concedes that his expectations aren't realistic, and that he needs to renew his focus. The genre of the good apology is not dead!

Bottom line: As the great George R.R. Martin said, "words are wind," and an apology without real accountability is just that—a brief, blustery gust of verbiage, whose only effect is to stoke the flames of outrage. And I have to ask—when did the simple, noble act of admitting a mistake become America's worst nightmare?

Time for your weekly superlatives—guaranteed to be footloose and apology-free.

The "Stick to Politics!" Hilarity of the Week: This Protester

A man protesting a White Lives Matter gathering in Tennessee decided to make a sign delineating who was "welcome" and "not welcome." On the "welcome" half were symbols for various religious and minority groups. On the "not welcome" half were symbols for known hate groups. But there was one more entry on the "not welcome" side, and, well, it's pretty hysterical. Take a look:

As a New York sports fan, I totally get it. Never let anyone tell you to stick to politics, Tennessee protester man. But know that if you ever put Derek Jeter on that poster, I will push for the electric chair.

"Whatever You Do, Don't Bring This Man Food" Athlete of the Week: Bruce Maxwell, Oakland A's

Maxwell, who became the first MLB player to kneel this season, has had quite a week. First, he claimed a "pro-Trump waiter" refused to serve him at a restaurant, and it looks like that story is total bunk. Then, more alarmingly, he pulled a gun on a female food delivery driver on Saturday, leading to his arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Something is obviously very wrong with Maxwell, and we advise all of America to immediately cease bringing him food. Remember that [scene in The Jerk]( where Steve Martin thinks his assassin hates cans? Well, Maxwell clearly hates food. If he invites you to Thanksgiving dinner, make an excuse.

This Week's Reason Why Football Completely Sucks: These Dumb Refs

Watch this touchdown:

Because of that mini-high step, Justin Hobbs and Tulsa had the touchdown taken off the board by virtue of the dumbest, most aggravating rule in sports. It's also another symptom of football's stodgy conservatism. Instead of a ref, I imagine this flag being thrown by our country's most sanctimonious, shitty moral police...a decency collective determined to suck the fun and individuality out of society. Also, Tulsa lost by four points.


The Butch Jones Butch Jones of the Week: Butch Jones

Finally, ladies and gentlemen, I give you the man who couldn't even do a successful Hail Mary right. Good day!