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� 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."