How NOT to Apologize

Earlier this week, Mark McGwire “came clean” on his use of steroids. Among the analyses that I read, one noted how major league baseball was getting quite good at learning how to apologize. It’s even become somewhat of a formula.

First, you issue a press release. Then you arrange a sitdown interview with a favorably inclined organization such as MLB Network – although you should have an accomplish journalist interview you. After that, make yourself available to some media outlets to answer questions. When that is all complete, have a couple of interested parties laud you for stepping forwrad. Presto! You’re done and everyone will allow you to move on with your life.

Only problem — the public is not responding favorably at all — which leads us to thinking about why this is so.

A closer examination of McGwire’s apology statement offers some lessons for all of us in how to apologize.

  1. “Now that I have become the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, I have the chance to do something that I wish I was able to do five years ago.” Apologize because it is the right thing to do not because you are afraid of the consequences. Try not to make your apology self serving. Sincerity and motivation are important.
  2. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.” Got it…shame on the era for forcing me to take steroids. Take responsibility.
  3. “During the mid-90s, I went on the DL seven times and missed 228 games over five years. Don’t load up your apology with statistics. It makes it look like the statement was written by a third party and not you.
  4. I experienced a lot of injuries, including a rib cage strain, a torn left heel muscle, a stress fracture of the left heel, and a torn right heel muscle. It was definitely a miserable bunch of years and I told myself that steroids could help me recover faster. I thought they would help me heal and prevent injuries too.” Alot of other players were hurt and they chose to stay within the rules. Eliminate the rationalization. Don’t make excuses.
  5. I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. I had good years when I didn’t take any and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids and I had bad years when I took steroids.” Still, Mark, everyone seems to think that steroids makes players better hitters. Don’t minimize or ignore the impact of your transgression.
  6. “Baseball is really different now – it’s been cleaned up. The Commissioner and the Players Association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I’m glad they did.” Hard to tell if you are glad they cleaned it up or glad that they waited until you left the game. Don’t kiss up.

Here’s perhaps a more effective apology built on acknowledging, apologizing and doing something constructive about it.

I cheated. I let you down. I was wrong. I’m really sorry.

And here’s what I’m going to do about it. I’m going to speak to high school and college kids and pour my own money into getting kids to know cheating is wrong and steroids are dangerous.

It’s the least I can do…and I’m open to any other suggestions you might have as to how I can make amends for what I have done.

Now that would be an apology…


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