Cook: Are athletes' apologies sincere?


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It's been a big week for apologies in sports. Steelers Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey apologized to those he offended by wearing a "Free Hernandez" hat Saturday night in apparent support of his former University of Florida teammate, Aaron Hernandez, who is facing an execution-style murder charge. Victor Cruz of the New York Giants and Roddy White of the Atlanta Falcons apologized for controversial tweets they made after George Zimmerman was acquitted Sunday in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel apologized to his coaches for generally being an immature jerk since he won the Heisman Trophy in December. Don't be surprised if Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd is next to apologize after pleading guilty Tuesday to a misdemeanor drunken driving charge from 2012.

That's a lot of regret, real or coerced.

We've become hardened by it all. It seems as if an athlete does something stupid or even criminal every day and then apologizes for it 24 hours later. Is it just me or is it difficult to take the apology seriously? I struggle to see the sincerity. It's much easier to see a cover-my-behind mentality.

Did Pouncey's apology on Twitter -- where else these days? -- come from his heart or was it prompted by his Steelers bosses? I'm betting on choice two. Not to be cynical.

Many people had questions and were troubled by the Zimmerman verdict. A lot were angry about what they perceived to be racial injustice. But few reacted as outrageously as Cruz and White. Cruz tweeted, "Thoroughly confused. Zimmerman doesn't last a year before the hood catches up to him." White wrote on Twitter that the jurors in the case should "go home and kill themselves."

Nice thoughts, right?

React to violence by encouraging more violence?

That's horrific.

Did Cruz apologize because the Giants insisted he do it? "It was wrong," he said of his tweet on ESPN radio. "I'm human and things happen and I own up to it."

Did White apologize because his agent told him he could lose popularity with many in the Falcons fan base, not to mention lucrative endorsement deals? "I understand my tweet was extreme," he wrote on Twitter. "I never meant for the people to do that. I was shocked and upset about the verdict. I am sorry."

Genuine apologies?

You decide.

At least Cruz spoke directly to his radio listeners. He didn't take the easy way out and apologize on Twitter.

"There are a lot of children that follow me, a lot of kids follow me and I don't want them to think I'm trying to incite violence on anyone. That's not what I'm here for. That's not what my intent was -- or is -- at all."

Along that same line, the prosecutor in the Kidd case also talked about Kidd being a "role model." Explaining why he settled for Kidd speaking to Long Island, N.Y., high school students about the dangers of drunken driving instead of pressing for a stiffer punishment, Suffolk County district attorney Thomas Spota said, "He's going to have the opportunity to talk to [kids] about the foolish mistake that he made and the fact he took responsibility for his actions. That is, for me, more important than three years' probation."

It's true. I know it's true. Athletes are role models for a lot of young people and even some badly misguided adults merely because they can catch a touchdown pass or make a 3-point shot or hit a home run. But that doesn't make it right. It's pretty disheartening, actually.

It's one thing to want to be like Manziel -- "Johnny Football," as he's known -- on the field. He's a talented, exciting player. But there's nothing to be gained by anyone by using Manziel as some sort of moral compass. Actually, that's not entirely true. Kids can learn a lot about how not to behave by observing him. He has disrespected any number of people the past few months, most recently at the Manning Passing Camp in Louisiana. He didn't fulfill his commitment as a coach/counselor, citing illness, but there were reports he was partying heavily at night.

Manziel is 20.

Is it really fair to him to expect him to be a role model? Is it fair to any athlete? It's great if they are wonderful people, but there's nothing in their job description that says they are responsible for your kids. You are responsible as a parent or as a guardian or as an influential person in a kid's life. A teacher, perhaps. A church figure. A coach.

Cruz conceded he still is trying to be a better man. His reputation is largely solid, as best I can tell. He touched the emotions of many in December when he visited the family of Jack Pinto, 6, a victim in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn. He was the boy's favorite player. The boy was buried wearing his jersey.

And the lesson Cruz said he learned from the reaction to his tweet?

"You really have to watch what you say."

And do.

Those are lessons you wish everyone could learn. Sadly, though, many people -- athletes and otherwise -- never do.

Steelers - mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published July 17, 2013 4:00 AM


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