A Tale of Two Apologies

Published: January 13, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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On Monday, (Jan. 11) former St. Louis Cardinal slugger and current holder of baseball’s single season home run record (70), Mark McGwire finally admitted to using steroids in the ’90s

Mark McGuire & Harry Reid

In a sincere, at times, tearful interview with sportscaster Bob Costas, McGwire said, “I apologize to everybody in major-league baseball, my family, the Maris’ [Yankee Roger Maris was the former record holder], Bud Selig. Today was the hardest day of my life.

“The wear and tear of 162 ballgames,” McGwire explains, “and the status of where I was at and the pressures that I had to perform and what I had to go through to get through all these injuries is a very, very regrettable thing.”

Two days earlier, (Jan. 9) Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, released a statement in which he apologized for remarks he made in 2008 about presidential candidate Barack Obama becoming the country’s first black president because he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

“I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words,” Reid said in a statement.  “I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans for my improper comments.”

Reid’s “improper comments” come from the newly released book, Game Change, which details the behind-the-scenes activities in both the Democratic and Republican 2008 presidential campaigns.

“Authentic apologies,” writes ethicist Michael Josephson, “involve much more than words expressing sorrow; they require accountabilityremorse, and repentance. An accountable apology involves a sincere acknowledgment that the apologizer did something wrong,” Josephson says.

“An authentic apology also conveys remorse. It’s easier to forgive persons who have hurt us if we believe they have suffered some pain themselves in the form of regret, sorrow, or shame.”  Finally, Josephson points out that “Accountability and remorse must also be joined by repentance – recognizing something we did was wrong coupled with a credible commitment to not do it again. Without such a commitment, an apology is hollow.”

Using Josephson’s criteria, both Reid and McGwire take responsibility for their actions.  McGwire has apologized to several key individuals as well as the fans.  Through his statement, Senator Reid has not only apologized to Mr. Obama directly, but a list of other African American leaders.

Both Reid and McGwire appear to demonstrate regret.

However, while McGwire sits for a lengthy interview answering all manner of questions regarding everything from what brought about his choice to use steroids to why he lied for so many years, Mr. Reid offers a brief written statement.  Where McGwire can be judged, via a televised interview, as to how sincere he is, Senator Reid offers us no such opportunity.

In the end, the majority leader’s words come off lacking due to the fact that, a) they come in the form of a written statement instead of a pubic statement, and b) the statement itself conveniently coincides with the release of the book where Reid’s remarks are publicly revealed. Why didn’t he apologize back in 2008? Would anyone even hear an apology if the book had not been released?

Finally, there’s the motive of the two: Senator Reid is facing a tough re-election battle in his home state of Nevada this year.  Based on his history of stone-faced, tough talk in working with Congressional Republicans, the Senator comes off as someone making hasty amends to appeal to voters. McGwire seems to be neither looking for votes to enter Baseball’s Hall of Fame nor respite from St. Louis fans, but he has been offered a job as hitting coach for the team. However, “I’m not here doing this for the HOF, he says. “I’m doing this for me, to get this off my chest…. I’m asking for a second chance. I hope [St. Louis fans] give it to me, because I have a lot to offer.”

In his interview with Costas, McGwire answers some hard questions in a demonstrably credible manner.

“I knew someday, somehow, somewhere I was going to have to talk about this,” a tearful McGwire says. “It’s tough because when you have to tell your son and your family for the first time, something I’ve hid for a long, long time. Especially my wife, close friends… All I can say is, I’m sorry and it’s been one of the toughest days of my life and I totally regret everything I’ve done.”

At the end of the day, the only thing we’re left to examine from Senator Reid is a written statement. And it’s difficult to judge true remorse much less repentance from a piece of paper.


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