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Sports athletes are human and the teams they play for are made up of humans. When they err, as humans will do occasionally, to whom do they owe an apology to? Do they owe and apology at all?
Since the internet, and with it, social media arrived on our cultural landscape, everything and everyone seems to be under a microscope. Every mistake is seemingly picked up and amplified, as it spreads throughout the universe of the internet. Athletes, even those influencers with the largest of followings, are not immune to this kind of scrutiny. Accountability is a good thing, but in a non-objective atmosphere, due process and a reasoned response is often sacrificed for the blood thirst of mob rule.
Although it was quite some time ago, Tiger Woods, who recently showed that sports redemption is possible, with his recent Masters win, had his personal life exposed to a colossal financial and familial loss. Yet, did he owe an apology to his fans? Not one single fan was hurt by Tiger’s actions. Other than possible disappointment, not a single fan was hurt either financially or psychologically. Because of this fact, no apology was owed to a single fan. Family and sponsors are a different story, but an apology to fans, which he did do in a subsequent press conference, was not necessary. In fact, it was most likely a public relations ploy forced onto him by the wants and needs of his sponsors.
There is a long list of professional baseball players that have been caught “cheating” by using steroids or performance enhancing drugs to gain a physical advantage, including Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, to name just a few. These actions may have in fact been immoral, yet not a single fan of theirs or baseball fans in general was owed an apology from them. They don’t have to answer to the press or the fans. The only ones they have to answer to or even apologize to is their management. If you level the argument that they are role models that children and others look up to, maybe the problem is with those who have chosen men, playing a kid’s game, who hit a ball with a stick as a role model. Role models should be heroes and playing a meaningless game is far from qualifying as heroic. Maybe those who call ball players heroes should look to people who face real, existential dangers and have the courage to take them on as heroes. Being able to hit a ball hurled at you at 90 miles per hour does not and should not meet the criteria of proper hero worship.
Very recently, the Tampa Bay Lightning were swept out of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after tying the NHL record for the most wins in the regular season. After this disappointment, management issued an apology letter to the fans for failing to make it into the second round. However, this apology, though maybe considered a nice gesture towards their fans, was neither necessary or warranted. In any pure competition, i.e., not WWE wrestling, the outcome is not and can not be guaranteed.
Even in everyday life, sometimes the winner takes nothing. They had an outstanding regular season, but perhaps that fault lies at the feet of their management. Pouring all their effort and focus onto a meaningless regular season wins record drained their energy and left their tanks near empty when they needed it the most. This isn’t the first time this has happened in the NHL.
The 1993 Pittsburgh Penguins were well on their way to three-peating when, towards the end of that regular season, they focused on a non-important consecutive win streak, which they set at 17 games. Having drained their focus and energy on that record, they lost in the second round to a far inferior New York Islander team. More recently, the Detroit Red Wings focused on a 26-game home winning streak, only to achieve the NHL record and then quickly get eliminated from the playoffs. The lesson here should be to focus on what really matters, a championship, not meaningless records.
In the end, if apologies are owed, it’s very rarely to the fans. If you were to fail to realize your employment goals, to whom would you owe an apology to, your customers/clients or to your management team? It’s possible management my even owe you an apology for not requiring you to focus on the more important big picture goals instead of minor, insignificant ones. Regardless, fans are very seldom owed an apology from professional athletes or their teams.
Grand Designs Podcast - Episode 13 - Sports Apologies
Grand Designs Podcast - Episode 13 - Sports Apologies Transcript