Home Sports Column: 2022 was the year of the sports apology, from Phil Mickelson to Kyrie Irving to Rocky Wirtz

Column: 2022 was the year of the sports apology, from Phil Mickelson to Kyrie Irving to Rocky Wirtz

by staff

Sorry seems to be the hardest word, as the great philosopher Elton John once noted.

Seldom has that been more evident than in 2022, the year of the sports apology.

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A few weeks remain, but this year will be remembered for the number of prominent sports figures who found it in their hearts to apologize for various misdeeds, misspoken words, misinterpreted gestures captured on video and other self-induced mistakes.

Some apologies were insincere, forced upon the guilty party by pressure from above, typically written with the aid of an agent or media relations expert and distributed in the form of a press release.

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Some were completely unnecessary but made out of an abundance of caution in case someone in the Twittersphere had been offended.

And others were all about money, whether trying to avoid prohibitive fines and lengthy suspensions that could affect wallets and comfy lifestyles or hoping to keep the apologizer’s image clean for potential riches down the road.

The latest contender for Apology of the Year comes from a young soccer player named Gio Reyna, who played for the U.S. team in the World Cup in Qatar. Reyna delivered his apology to his teammates, according to The Athletic, after coach Gregg Berhalter reportedly ordered him to address his “lack of effort” while training for the opening World Cup game against Wales.

Apparently the apology was insufficient, as Berhalter later revealed.

“And what was fantastic in this whole thing is that after he apologized, they stood up one by one and said, ‘Listen, it hasn’t been good enough, you haven’t been meeting our expectations of a teammate and we want to see change,’” Berhalter said at a leadership seminar. “They really took ownership of that process. And from that day on there were no issues with this player.”

Reyna responded to the revelation with a statement on Instagram. He voiced displeasure that the matter hadn’t remained private and said he was “devastated” upon hearing that his playing time would be limited.

“I am also a very emotional person, and I fully acknowledge that I let my emotions get the best of me and affect my training and behavior for a few days after learning about my limited role,” Reyna wrote. “I apologized to my teammates and coach for this, and I was told I was forgiven.”

Begging forgiveness is typically the point of making an apology. But often the “non-apology apology” is so poor, it only makes matters worse.

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Las Vegas Raiders receiver Davante Adams shoved a camera operator to the ground after a game, then blamed the victim during his apology by saying the man was “running in front of me and I shouldn’t have responded that way.”

New York Yankees third baseman Josh Donaldson issued an apology through his agency to Jackie Robinson’s wife and family after inappropriately referring to Chicago White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson as “Jackie” during a game. Donaldson’s statement also noted he apologized to Anderson and that “it was a misunderstanding based on multiple exchanges between us over the years.”

Anderson later said Donaldson was wrong and had been asked before not to address him.

Golfer Phil Mickelson issued the mother of all apologies after telling a reporter that Saudi government leaders are “scary mother (bleeps)” who “killed (Washington Post reporter and U.S. resident Jamal) Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights.”

“They execute people over there for being gay,” Mickelson added.

Mickelson’s written apology claimed the remarks were off the record —which reporter Alan Shipnuck disputed — but added “the bigger issue is that I used words I sincerely regret that do not reflect my true feelings or intentions. It was reckless, I offended people and I am deeply sorry for my choice of words.”

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Mickelson said he needed “time away” from golf but recovered in time to play on the Saudi-funded LIV Golf tour, which reportedly paid him about $200 million.

Two serial apologists in 2022 who never seemed to get it right were Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who posted a link on Twitter to an antisemitic video, and Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was accused of sexual misconduct by more than two dozen women while playing in Houston.

Irving initially refused to apologize until being suspended by his team, which stated he was “currently unfit to be associated with the Brooklyn Nets.”

Nets guard Kyrie Irving plays against the 76ers on Nov. 22, 2022, in Philadelphia.

Watson, who signed a five-year, $230 million deal with the Browns after they acquired him from the Texans, initially said he had “no regrets” for his actions before reversing course after fan backlash. He made a 20-second statement relating that he was “truly sorry” and that “decisions that I made in my life that put me in this position I would definitely like to have back.”

A few apologies were standard-issue. San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. apologized after being suspended for taking performance-enhancing drugs, which of course he saw as accidental. Commissioner Rob Manfred apologized to baseball fans for the 99-day owner lockout.

Some apologies went virtually unnoticed. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady was sorry for comparing a football season to being deployed in the military. ESPN analyst Troy Aikman called it “just dumb” that he suggested the NFL “take the dresses off” quarterbacks when calling for changes in roughing-the-passer penalties.

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Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons backtracked after responding to Brittney Griner’s release in the U.S.-Russia prisoner swap with this tweet: “Wait nah!! We left a marine?!! Hell nah.” Parsons later tweeted he meant it as “no shot” at Griner, adding: “I am not too prideful to admit when I’ve made a mistake.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones apologized for using a derogatory term for short people when talking about an employee, saying he understood the word “may have been viewed as offensive.”

It was also a banner year in Chicago for sports apologies.

Cubs manager David Ross apologized after Marquee Sports Network showed him extending two middle fingers during a game in San Francisco. Ross, who was messing around with former Cubs outfielder Joc Pederson, apologized the next day for exhibiting “poor taste” and sending the wrong message to kids.

”I’m sorry I got caught on TV,” Ross said.

Bears quarterback Justin Fields made the most unnecessary apology for saying after a loss: “It hurts more in the locker room than for the Bears fans. At the end of the day, they’re not putting in any work.”

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While that was 100% accurate, Fields felt obliged to make amends when Twitter trolls jumped on him over the remark.

“I don’t know any fans,” Fields said. “I don’t know what they’re doing in their personal lives. I respect every fan we have. I’m glad that we have fans. I would never disrespect anybody on what they do or what they love to do.”

Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz took local honors.

Wirtz went viral for an unhinged rant against reporters Mark Lazerus of The Athletic and the Tribune’s Phil Thompson during a town hall meeting while answering questions about the Kyle Beach incident.

Blackhawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz answers questions as the team introduces Kyle Davidson as its new general manager March 1, 2022, at the United Center.

“What we’re going to do today is our business,” Wirtz yelled. “I don’t think it’s any of your business. Because I don’t think it’s your business. You don’t work for the company.”

After the inevitable backlash, Wirtz released a statement apologizing to fans and the two reporters.

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“My response to two questions crossed the line,” Wirtz wrote.

Irving, Watson and Mickelson eventually were back in action and making more millions. Wirtz is still in charge of the Hawks but has virtually disappeared since last winter.

Perhaps 2023 will bring us better-behaving sports figures and fewer apologies.

But, sorry to say, I’m not too optimistic.

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