ST. LOUIS — The apology in sports has turned into an Olympic event. Occasionally televised and always scripted, every fallen or defrocked athletic celebrity we know follows up his or her moment of shame with a mea culpa dripping with various forms of insincerity and choreographed remorse.
We love the apology in sports. Everyone does it, then they throw it to the judges — the outraged public — and we stand there grading their performances.
So we had an awkward Tiger Woods run the gauntlet (I believe the Russian judge gave him a 6.5) for months, only to give way to Ben Roethlisberger's bumbling misadventures and public flogging. And all I keep thinking every time one of these guys gets in trouble, then tries to talk his way out of it, why are so many of them so bad at it?
Nothing says "I'm sorry" like a troubled athlete who's worried that his endorsements, contract or playing time is in jeopardy.
I guess just like the song, sorry really does seem to be the hardest word.
You can learn a lot about someone by the way they handle apologizing for some misstep or awkward brush with the law. Imagine what could happen to someone in the sports world after the usual public misstep if he simply looked out at the world and told the unfettered truth?
Kobe did it with a multimillion dollar diamond ring for his wife. Tiger did it with a painful made-for-TV statement that satisfied absolutely no one. Mark McGwire did it with a series of staged public events carefully arranged by high-priced media handlers, too. Now Roethlisberger has joined in the parade with his own version of his spin doctors' truth with a written statement whose sincerity is being picked apart word by carefully written word.
But every once in a while, we see what can happen when you don't leave the apology in the hands of spin doctors or lawyers. Miami Dolphins General Manager Jeff Ireland tried it Tuesday and what do you know, I think it actually worked.
So why did Ireland need to apologize?
He asked a prospective draft pick if his mom was a hooker.
Ireland seems to have made something of a jerk of himself when doing a standard pre-draft interview with potential draftee Dez Bryant at the NFL scouting combine a few months ago. If you are considering investing millions of dollars in a first-round draft pick and you're concerned about a player's reputation as a possible head case, and you're curious if he has family issues that have led to that less than favorable reputation, you certainly ought to be able to check into that player's past.
Ireland's problem was that when it came to asking Bryant about his background, he did it with the ham-fisted grace of a bull in a china closet. Bryant, the Oklahoma State receiver who ended up being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, accused Ireland of going way overboard.
"They asked me if my mom's a prostitute," Bryant told Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports. "No, my mom is not a prostitute. I got mad — really mad — but I didn't show it. I got a lot of questions like that: 'Does she still do drugs?' I sat and answered all of them."
Bryant earned a reputation as a problem child, but no matter how much tough love-fact finding you need to do, there is a delicate line that shouldn't be crossed unless you have established a relationship with a player.
Asking a man if his mother was a hooker is generally considered to be a Carl Lewis-like leap over that line.
Listen carefully to Ireland's explanation. "My job is to find out as much information as possible about a player that I'm considering drafting," Ireland said in a statement he sent to the Miami Herald. "Sometimes that leads to asking in-depth questions. Having said that, I talked to Dez Bryant and told him I used poor judgment in one of the questions I asked him. I certainly meant no disrespect and apologized to him. I appreciate his acceptance of that apology, and I told him I wished him well as he embarks on his NFL career."
Now, that's a good apology.