Who knew one could find valuable life lessons on the wall of a sandwich shop?

About a year ago, I was waiting for my Italian Night Club at Jimmy John’s when I spied a lesson on giving proper apologies. I paraphrase:

1. I was wrong

2. I’m sorry I hurt you

3. How can I make it better?

So simple and so rarely heard. It’s astounding that so many public people apologize so poorly.

More than a week ago, Chicago Sun-Times sports reporter Joe Cowley came under fire for sexist comments posted on Twitter, demeaning the looks of female flight attendants and questioning the skills of “chick pilots.” After his comments raised the ire of followers, including a fellow sports reporter who is a woman, Cowley first deemed his writing “satire” and then deleted his account.

I suppose in actuality Cowley didn’t bother to actually apologize for anything. Instead, he went for the good old, Ya’ll just don’t get my humor. I’m out! approach. Note to less-than-social-media-savvy public figures. Deleting offensive tweets rarely makes a situation go away. Look up “web cache.” I’ll wait…Now, see why that doesn’t work?

Is it sports that brings out the nasty privilege in people? Last week, New York Post writer Phil Mushnick suggested that the Brooklyn Nets be renamed the “New York Niggers” because of Jay-Z’s involvement.  Mushnick chose to respond to furore with the popular “double down” with a bit of “blame hip hop”: “Jay-Z profits from the worst and most sustaining self-enslaving stereotypes of black-American culture and I’M the racist? Some truths, I guess, are just hard to read, let alone think about.”

Mushnick’s response is not uncommon to folks called on the carpet for racism. Remember NappyHeadedHoGate and all the folks who came forward to point out misogyny and the use of “the N word” in hip hop, hinting that black people and their allies find these things okay. Totally ignored is the fact that a reporter for a major newspaper (or in Imus’ case, a broadcaster with a morning spot on a major cable news network) is not the same as a 22-year-old rapper; and that plenty of black people do speak out loudly about problems within hip hop.

I couldn’t write about the trend of the non-apology without touching on Chris Brown. Nope. I’m not going to address domestic violence and Rihanna. Let’s talk about Brown’s homophobic Twitter rant against singer Raz-B.  Referring to allegations that Raz-B had been molested by a male manager and labelmate as a pre-teen, Brown called him “dick in da booty ass lil boy.” After that incident, which certainly seemed to demonstrate that Brown had ongoing issues with not just anger, but also homophobia, the star said:

“Yesterday was an unfortunate lack in judgment sparked by public Twitter attacks from Raz-B, who was bent on getting attention. Words cannot begin to express how sorry and frustrated I am over what transpired publicly on Twitter. I have learned over the past few years to not condone or represent acts of violence against anyone.” And then…”I love all of my fans, gay and straight,” Brown went on to say. “I have friends from all walks of life and I am committed, with God’s help, to continue becoming a better person.”

In other words, the victim of my hate asked for it, but I’m still real, real, sorry and all about gay equality. Except less than a year later, Brown retaliated against photographers he suspected of alerting parking enforcement to his vehicle by calling them “gay.

And this is one problem with public apologies. They are more about damage control than sincerity. And they rarely have real action behind them–the “how can I make it better” part. Rush Limbaugh may have apologized to student Sandra Fluke for calling her a slut, but he did so only after losing a raft of sponsors.  And is anyone convinced that Limbaugh has some new-found respect for women and their right to reproductive and other healthcare? I’m not. If “gay” is your go-to insult against other men, it doesn’t take a genius to know that you feel gay men are inherently inferior. Apologies be damned.

Public figures and everyday people should realize this: Saying the words “I’m sorry” is simply not enough. That changes nothing. The only way to prove you regret a certain action is to commit to education and a long-term change of behavior. Even, mind, if you are not guaranteed forgiveness.

This is a real apology:

1. I was wrong

2. I’m sorry I hurt you

3. How can I make it better?

Then, actually make it better.

Anything less is an offense.


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