It's Your Non-Apology That Offends Me
This past week, aside from the Astros' wins, Houston sports were in the news for all the wrong reasons. As if having one idiot in the 24 hour news cycle from Houston isn't enough, Houston had two. First, Houston Astros' first baseman Yuli Gurriel found himself in hot water for a racially insensitive gesture and slur aimed at Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish. But overshadowing Gurriel's moronic incident, Bob McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, found himself square in the middle of the spotlight with his comment: "we can't allow the inmates to run the prison" during a discussion of NFL player protests of police brutality while attending an NFL owners-only meeting last week.
But this is not meant to be a think piece on what is inherently wrong with what these two geniuses did or said because I'm hoping by now you get it. And if you don't then stop reading this article and come back when you've got a clue. Instead, I'm more interested in breaking down the concept of "the non-apology" as demonstrated by these two sports figures and why we as a people just gotta do better.
Don't you find it funny how within 24 hours after people say something dumb in such a public forum they (read: their publicist) send out a "statement" that goes something like this:
"After much soul searching (over the last 24 hours when my PR team got in my ass), I now realize how my comment/gesture could be taken out of context. I am the least racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted person I know. See - here's my yearbook from 1971! I stood next to a [insert minority group] person once my sophomore year! So you see, I'm not who you think I am. I apologize if my momentary lapse of judgment offended anyone."
Don't believe me? Read McNair's comment here. And Gurriel's initial statement here. And to add insult to injury, Bush 41, another famous Houstonian, also found himself apologizing for groping women. Here is his non-apology. You want to know the real problem with this kind of apology. It does nothing. It's a bunch of empty words that basically say, "I'm sorry I got caught." It's like the student who goes to detention who says, "I'm not sorry I punched the kid on the playground - I'm just sorry the teacher saw me when I did it." At least Gurriel went back and clarified his statement, rightfully said his behavior was "indefensible," and apologized for actually being offensive instead of only apologizing "if" he was offensive (looking at you McNair and Bush).
This epidemic of the non-apology is something we're seeing a lot more of lately in this time where those with loose lips feel justified in saying and doing all the ignorant and hateful shit they want to say and do because hey - we have a pussy-grabber for a president who freely says and does what he wants without remorse. Let's face it - this starts from the top.
The worst thing about serial non-apologists is that they feel like these statements are just the salve needed to heal open wounds. But they rarely are. In fact, non-apologies are more offensive than the offending behavior. You see, I don't buy that somehow you woke up and because something you never intended to go public was printed in the paper, you had some magical overnight epiphany about your failings as a human. Here's the thing - Gurriel and McNair have probably used those gestures and insensitive descriptors before. And often. So thank you for exposing your true self, gentlemen, but don't for a minute think I buy that you did a complete 180 in the matter of 24 hours and are now pure of heart.
And because I find McNair the worst kind of non-apologist, let me park there for a moment and deal with him. Sir, the fact that you can be so aloof when using the term "inmate" to describe men in the NFL- 70% of whom are black - lets me know that you actually believe what you said. Think about it - there is virtually no other anecdote to capture the alleged point you were tying to get across. Here you are, sitting in a room full of other wealthy white men who build their teams based on a glorified auction...(let that sink in)... and what you're trying to say is that the players shouldn't be allowed to protest (a First Amendment issue by the way) or dictate the league's policy on the national anthem because YOU are the owners, not them. And that's exactly what you said, except you added a pinch of racial insensitivity for effect. To make things worse, sir, you made a second non-apology where you said, "if I had to do it over again I wouldn't use that expression." Pause. You're not saying you don't believe what you said, you're just saying you wouldn't use the expression again. That's like saying, "I still think you're a bitch but in the future I will use the term "nasty woman." I see you, sir. And please spare me any commentary about all the good you do in urban areas of Houston as some sort of excuse for why you shouldn't be held accountable for this incident. I'm so over letting people off the hook for the wrong things they do just because once in life they did something that looked right. You can drive through the hood to hand out turkeys on Thanksgiving Thursday and still be a bigot on Friday. Just sayin...
Side note: if you're someone who says, "of course he doesn't think they are inmates, you're being too sensitive," consider that no one would EVER use the same anecdote to describe anyone on the PGA tour, in the NHL or in NASCAR. If you think they would, bless your naive heart.
Sadly, non-apologies are not only common in the celebrity realm. We regular folks do it too. And we have to do better, people. Of course I'm not saying that people don't mess up. We do. A lot. And it's perfectly fine to be remorseful or feel regret. But apologies should either be sincere or skipped. They should not reflect a newfound appreciation for otherness that your PR team manufactured for you that you ignored and didn't care about the day before. People can change, sure. But not overnight.
The point is - if you're not sorry, don't apologize. And if you are, why not say, "I've hurt and offended you and I've got a lot of growing to do" or "I clearly have some prejudices I need to explore and get to the bottom of"? That's more sincere than saying "if you were offended (and I hope you weren't), in that case and ONLY in that case am I sorry." What you're really sorry about is that the world is now privy to the ugly underside of your belly and you aren't as comfortable with that as you once thought. Maybe instead of wasting time on an empty non-apology you can spend time unpacking that discomfort and why you got yourself there in the first place.
Yea...death to the non-apology.