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Monday, September 26, 2005
Updated: September 28, 12:09 PM ET
Don't say sorry, unless you are

By Patrick Hruby
Page 2

To the list of propositions so crazy they might be true -- Elvis walks among us; a monster lives in Loch Ness; President Bush can form complete, coherent sentences in private -- add the following:

I might owe readers an apology. (Note the italics).

Earlier this year, I wrote an article lamenting the sudden, oppressive ubiquity of all things Boston Red Sox, including (but not limited to) the Bloody Sock of Turin, sons weeping at their fathers' graves and Johnny Damon's bid for the Pen/Faulkner Award.

In addition, I likened the team's fans to overbearing neighbors who insist on giving yawn-inducing tours of their unremarkable homes and obnoxious, messy boarders who simply refuse to leave. Wrapping things up, I politely asked the Red Sox and their followers to get the [expletive] out of America's collective house, already.

Johnny Damon
Some people have grown a little tired of the Sox.
Surprisingly, this didn't go over well in Red Sox Nation.

Unsurprisingly, said Nation flooded my inbox.

One irate writer dubbed me an ass. Another added a suffix that rhymes with "droll." Some questioned my sexual orientation; others (smartly, I must admit) pointed out the hypocrisy of a media member decrying a media-disseminated phenomenon.

Oh, and I also was blessed with my very own obscene entry on the Urban Dictionary Web site, the Stateside equivalent of British knighthood -- albeit with less shoulder-tapping from the Queen, and more accusations of an unwholesome relationship between myself and the primates at the National Zoo.

Hmmm. When Irish author Brendan Behan noted that all publicity is good, he probably didn't have illicit man-on-monkey action in mind.

Anyway, the outpouring of bile forced me to reflect: Was I wrong to rip Boston overload? Did I bruise some feelings? Was it now time to repent, kneel before Zod and beg for New England's forgiveness?

After careful consideration, I'd like to extend the following olive branch to Red Sox Nation.

I'm not sorry for my article. Not in the least.

That said, I am sorry that Sox supporters are saddled with Ben Affleck, that Jimmy Fallon starred in the movie, and that so much of their emotional well-being rests on the fickle shoulders of stick-swinging, pajama-wearing millionaires. Particularly when said millionaires are losing ground to a similar bunch in pinstripes.

My regards.

Wow. Know what? That felt good. Real good. Way better than a phony mea culpa, one of those by-the-book sham apologies that pollute sports and society alike. Ben Franklin was right: Honesty really is the best policy.

And for reminding us all of that fundamental truth -- heck, for giving me a sterling example to emulate -- I'd like to thank Jacksonville quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Why Leftwich? During a loss to Indianapolis two weeks ago, the Jaguars quarterback flipped off Colts defensive line coach John Teerlinck. Twice. Teerlinck reportedly yelled at Leftwich from the sideline; the quarterback's vulgar rejoinders were caught on camera.

Following the game, Leftwich said he was sorry. Well, sort of.

"I made a mistake," he said. "I hate that I did it because I got caught on TV. But in the heat of battle, sometimes you do things. Maybe a little child was sitting there watching the game and saw that. That's the only bad part of it."

Leftwich never apologized to Teerlinck. Good for him. Following the standard script, the quarterback could have proffered a bogus expression of regret, summoned some hollow contrition to both burnish his image and perhaps placate the league office.

Instead, Leftwich stuck to his guns. He simply wasn't sorry for telling Teerlinck where to sit, never mind where to spin. Why pretend otherwise?

Frankly, the rest of us should follow suit.

Byron Leftwich
Gotta appreciate the breath of fresh air from Byron Leftwich.
Leftwich might have set a bad example for kids. He set a great example for humanity. His candor is refreshing. Not sorry? Don't apologize. Ever.

Trust me: the world will be a better place.

Look, there's nothing wrong with a genuine mea culpa. To the contrary, heartfelt remorse is painful, powerful and absolutely necessary, an emotional salve like no other. Just so long as one actually means it.

Problem is, we often don't.

After shoving a camera operator to the ground, Texas pitcher Kenny Rogers read a written apology to a group of reporters; days later, he jawed with another cameraman … during his police booking. Tennis players feign remorse when shots hit the netcord and drop for points. Guess what? They don't ask for do-overs.

Watch the Academy Awards. Winners always claim they're sorry the other nominees can't join them on stage -- but has anyone ever offered their gold statuette to a peer they believed was more deserving?

Hint: Kevin Costner still has his 1990 best director award for "Dances With Wolves." Shut out that year? Martin Scorsese. For "Goodfellas."

Oy.

Think, too, of everyday life, of the 1,001 sham apologies served up at the great Altar of Getting By:

• At work: Sorry I didn't return your call about that boring project I have nothing to do with. Wait -- I missed a meeting, too? Darn.

• At home: Really regret watching football instead of mowing the lawn. Promise I'll get to it after "SportsCenter." The 11:00 p.m. edition.

• In the parking lot: My bad for swooping in on that prime space. You waiting for it? Funny, I didn't see your lime-green Suburban. Must be these glasses. You say I'm not wearing any? Er, I meant contacts.

Search your feelings. Is this any way to live? At best, ersatz mea culpas act as a cheap and easy social lubricant; at worst, they're a fundamentally disingenuous form of Kabuki.

Either way, the awful truth is a better option.

Consider the behavior of young children, told to say sorry by parents or teachers. Eyes roll, then wander. Tones range from subdued to sullen. Actual apologies are clipped and distracted.

Add a podium, and the whole scene could be mistaken for one of Bill Belichick's midweek press conferences.

Why so awkward? Easy. Kids haven't learned how to lie yet. Even in the adult world, insincere apologies are only as good as the dissembling talents of the people delivering them. As such, they fail to solve real conflicts. Both parties end up unsatisfied and resentful. Long-term rapprochement is junked for short-term appeasement, the kind that got Neville Chamberlain into all sorts of trouble.

Fortunately, Leftwich exemplifies the alternative: brutal, liberating honesty. Imagine a world where pretend remorse is obsolete, where bona fide apologies are no longer cheapened by a flood of fake ones.

Greater clarity. Less confusion. Such are the benefits.

Go back to Rogers. If you're a cameraman, does it help to hear the verbal equivalent of writing "I will play nice with others" 100 times on a chalkboard? Or would you rather know where the volatile Rangers pitcher really stands?

Yes, camera guys deserve to get shoved and I hope they burn in hell!

See? The latter is vastly preferable, in part because it informs you where to stand vis-a-vis Rogers (far, far away, like in another zip code). Better still, the tortured syntax of lawyer-crafted non-apologies becomes a thing of the past.

Kenny Rogers
How many people believed Kenny Rogers, particularly after his second cameraman run-in?
No more "I'm sorry if I offended anyone," "I'm sorry other people seem upset," "I'm sorry I'm a Portland Trail Blazer." Just the unvarnished truth.

I'm not sorry. Well, except for getting caught. Deal with it.

In this brave new era, sports stars won't have to pretend; fans won't have to pretend that we don't know they're pretending. Everyone will grasp the score.

The same goes for everyday life. Let's return to the office. Picture two sales reps, Dick and Jane. Jane is friendly, affable, popular; Dick lives up to his nickname.

Jane returns from a long lunch with a group of co-workers. Dick wasn't invited. He confronts Jane.

DICK: Why didn't you tell me about lunch?

JANE: Oh, I'm really sorry. I meant to. I'll be sure to let you know next time.

Oops. Big mistake. Dick now believes that his co-workers want to hang out with him. Unless Jane continues to fudge, the next office happy hour will be a disaster.

Try replaying the scenario, this time using the Leftwich approach:

DICK: Why didn't you tell me about lunch?

JANE: Because you're obnoxious and no one likes you. Maybe you can find some friends at another company. Hopefully on the West Coast.

Presto! Much better. Keep going. Apply the Leftwich Doctrine to marriage, and Erich Segal's dictum that love means never having to say you're sorry will actually ring true. At least when it comes to leaving the toilet seat up.

Indeed, the possibilities are vast. At shopping malls, for instance, I'm sometimes confronted by small, spazzy children, scampering about with little regard for direction; occasionally, these children run face-first into my kneecaps.

In the past, I've apologized, despite being guilty of nothing more than wanting to get a smoothie. No longer. Next time, I'll let the parents know how I really feel.

Hey, I'm sorry. Sorry you don't have a leash.

Harsh, but honest. Leftwich would approve. And he's not alone. On the very same day the Jags' quarterback flipped the bird, NASCAR's Kasey Kahne was wrecked by Kyle Busch, while Michael Waltrip sent Robby Gordon into a wall.

As payback, Gordon threw his helmet at Waltrip's car, then called him a "piece of [expletive]"; meanwhile, Kahne used his battered car to ram Busch. NASCAR fined both drivers. Neither seemed remorseful.

"This is behind us now," an unapologetic Kahne said. "Our focus is on upcoming events and the future."

As is mine -- specifically, on all the things I'll continue to not feel sorry about. Like wishing ill for Coach K. Like calling for legalized pantsing in soccer. Like the snide stuff I wrote about Red Sox Nation, bound to prompt another round of baboon-themed hate mail.

Speaking of which: the best thing about emulating Leftwich is that I don't expect any apologies, either. Especially not from Sox fans.

Truth be told, I don't think they'd be very sincere.

Patrick Hruby is a Page 2 columnist.