The Joy of Six: public apologies | Barry Glendenning

1) Lance Armstrong apologises to Oprah

To err is human, to forgive is divine: athlete messes up, then fronts up before the media to express contrition and ask for mercy. In a world where even the most nimble feet are often made from metaphorical clay, the public apology has long been a sporting staple. Many are utterly sincere, others not so much. Some are forced, quite a few are unnecessary. Then there’s the vague non-apology, where – through gritted teeth – a sportsman or woman who clearly feels they’ve done little wrong apologises to anyone “if” they were offended. One of many, a personal favourite came in 2013 from cyclist Peter Sagan, who famously issued one notable classic of the genre, when after publicly goosing podium girl Maja Leye in the wake of the Tour of Flanders, he tweeted that it “was not my intention to disrespect women today on the podium. Just a joke, sorry if someone was disturbed about it.” Splendid.

Mastering the mea culpa can be tricky and for all his drug-assisted success as a cyclist, Sagan’s one-time colleague Lance Armstrong has yet to get the hang of it. Having been railroaded into admitting his guilt and role as ringleader in the most sophisticated drugs operation in cycling history, the disgraced seven-times Tour de France winner agreed to prostrate himself before his public in an eagerly anticipated and pre-recorded televised interview with noted cycling enthusiast and take-no-prisoners interrogator Oprah Winfrey.

We’ve all seen it by now. Finally owning up to having cheated his way to victory in a lengthy exchange that prompted almost as many new questions as answers, the Texan looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable as he confessed to much, if not all of the skulduggery that had enabled him to pedal his way to glory in Paris on all seven occasions, while steadfastly refusing to implicate any of those who had helped him along the way.

The second part of Lance Armstrong’s chin-wag with Oprah.

His battle against cancer and good works for charity were mentioned regularly, while in keeping with his persona as the bully he admitted to being, it was notable that at times, despite his best efforts, Armstrong just couldn’t stop himself sneering and smirking his way through an apology that occasionally seemed heartfelt, but more often than not suggested he was really sorry for himself, his dwindling bank balance and his rotten luck in getting caught.

2) Phil Taylor apologises to Raymond van Barneveld

For all his undisputed excellence and indefatigability as a sportsman, 16-times world darts champion Phil Taylor can sometimes be difficult to admire. Occasionally more spiky in victory than other players are in defeat, his occasional habit of patronising opponents and interviewers can be wearing, although it should be noted that he could scarcely have been more magnanimous in defeat during his press conference following his most recent World Championship reverse at the hands of Gary Anderson. It was in stark contrast to his reaction at the end of his semi-final victory over Raymond van Barneveld in the same competition late in 2012.

Having hit double 16 to win the match and put an end to a thrilling comeback by his close friend and rival, Taylor was suitably delighted and celebrated in front of a crowd that had rowed in behind the Dutchman as he clawed his way back into the match from 5-1 down to make it 5-4. As Barney took his hand to shake it, Taylor was happy to accept the congratulations, but his pleasure turned to indignation and then outright irritation as Barney continued shaking, yanking him backwards as he refused to let go of his hand, before throwing a congratulatory arm around his shoulder. Ducking out of the embrace, Taylor proceeded to tell Barney to “fuck off”, then subjected his vanquished and clearly bewildered opponent to another torrent of abuse as they left the stage. Another conciliatory gesture from Barney was rejected and Taylor walked off alone, effing and jeffing as Barney was restrained from following him by match officials. It was all quite baffling. The following morning, Taylor couldn’t have been more contrite.

“Well, I’m a bit gutted about what happened at the end, obviously,” he said in an interview with Sky Sports News. “Trying to put the record straight, Raymond is a big lad. I don’t feel too well and he just hurt me a bit when he was squeezing me hand and pulling me around the neck. I reacted wrongly, it was disgraceful really and I can only apologise for that. Obviously it will never happen again. He just hurt me a bit so I told him ‘stop it’ and I swore at him … ugh.” At this point Taylor rubbed his face, in a bid to hide his shame, his obvious embarrassment evident for all to see.

“I’ve spoken to Raymond this morning and I’m gutted, obviously,” he continued. “It’s playing on my mind, it’s upset a lot of people … I don’t know what to do about it really. At the minute I could just walk away tomorrow night and just retire … go out on top really. I’m a bit disillusioned about everything at the minute. Obviously I don’t feel very well so really I need a break. To be honest I don’t care about the darts at the minute. I know I’m in the final but I don’t feel excited, I don’t feel chuffed about being in the final … I feel very, very down at the minute.”

Taylor emerged from his slough of despair to beat Michael van Gerwen 7-4 in the following day’s final, his 16th and most recent victory in a tournament he shows no sign of abandoning. Having been one of just a handful of players to offer Van Barneveld support when he was the victim of a Dutch blackmailer in 2010, Taylor was not about to be cut loose by his old pal. “We go back a long way, and I don’t want to spoil many years of friendship over a split-second reaction after a tense world championship semi-final,” said Barney, who claimed to be mystified by what it was exactly he had done to send Taylor into such a bizarre tantrum.

3) Eric Cantona apologises to an imaginary prostitute

Following the tsunami of moral outrage prompted by his assault on Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in January 1995, Eric Cantona didn’t so much have the book thrown at him as the entire contents of the British Library. As well as being convicted of assault and receiving a two-week jail sentence that was later overturned and reduced (or increased, depending on your point of view) to 120 hours’ community service, the French striker was stripped of the French captaincy and handed a four-month ban and £20,000 fine by his club at the behest of the Football Association. Inevitably, he was also summoned to a hearing at the headquarters of the FA, whose chairman Graham Kelly described an attack many fans found genuinely hilarious as “a stain on our game”.


Eric Cantona heads for the Selhurst Park stands.

Eric Cantona heads for the Selhurst Park stands. Photograph: STR/AFP

Truth be told, Cantona didn’t do himself too many favours, as the then FA chief executive David Davies would later recall in his memoirs. Standing before FA blazers Geoff Thompson, Ian Stott and Gordon McKeag, the normally recalcitrant player appeared to be on his best behaviour and his exercise in contrition was going well. It began with an apology to the commission, then apologies to Manchester United, his lawyer Maurice Watkins and boss Alex Ferguson. So far, so humble. “I like to apologise to my team-mates. I want to apologise to the FA,” he continued, showing what appeared to be genuine remorse. And finally? According to Davies, Cantona finished up by saying: “And I would like to apologise to the prostitute who shared my bed last night.” To the sound of jaws hitting the floor and the great surprise of nobody, his ban was doubled and he was fined an extra £10,000.

4) Joey Porter apologises to everyone except Kellen Winslow

Following a midweek win over the Cleveland Browns in December 2006, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Joey Porter found himself in hot water after ridiculing the vanquished side and subjecting their tight end Kellen Winslow to some off-colour homophobic abuse. In a post-game interview, Porter labelled his opponent a “fag”, adding that Winslow had “tried to dap me up [shake hands] before the game. He’s soft though, I don’t pay attention to him.”

Porter’s outburst was not over the Cleveland man’s attempted friendly greeting before the game, but in response to what he perceived to be a late hit on a team-mate perpetrated during proceedings, which seemed a bit rich coming from a man who, three years later while playing for the Miami Dolphins, would be voted the joint-second dirtiest defensive player in the league by 296 of his peers.

“It was late,” said Porter of the tackle. “That’s what fags do. He’s soft. He wanna be tough but he’s really soft. He tried to give me a handshake before the game. He’s not my friend. He don’t know me. What you trying to shake my hand for? He talks too much and he hadn’t done nothing. He threw a cheap shot. He’s weak. He’s for real weak. He’s soft. He might want to play receiver because he don’t want to play tight end. He’s not gonna block anybody.”

The following week, Porter issued an apology … of sorts. In a classic of the non-apology apology genre, he said sorry to anybody who had been offended by his remarks, explaining that he had only meant to insult the player at whom they had been aimed. “You know, that was probably a poor choice of words,” he said. “So if I offended anybody, I apologise for that … I don’t know … I guess because how we used that word freely, me growing up using that word, I didn’t think anything of it. Like I said, I apologise to anyone I may have offended. I didn’t mean to offend anybody but Kellen Winslow.”

So that’s alright, then, although if nothing else you can’t help but admire the man’s candour. The NFL were less impressed and fined Porter $10,000 for what they called “vulgar, inexcusable statements”. Three months earlier, Porter had been forced to issue a more sincere and unreserved apology, when two of his dogs – a pit bull and a mastiff – escaped from his garden and killed a miniature horse at a neighbouring property. “I have reached out to the owners of the horse and will do whatever I can to help them get through this very unfortunate situation,” he said. It was an unfortunate situation he was forced to help another neighbour “get through” while playing for the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. On this occasion, according to the Bakersfield Californian, four of his dogs savaged and killed a luckless hound.

5) Andrew Flintoff apologises to England cricket fans

Andrew Flintoff seems to have spent much of his cricket career apologising for assorted indiscretions, even if his occasional forays into the world of amiable, often drink-fuelled buffoonery have served only to further endear him to those who like their sporting heroes served up with generous dollops of human failing. Just this week, the former England all-rounder tweeted an apology to viewers of Ten Sport TV in Australia, after a stump microphone caught him castigating himself in the strongest possible terms after missing a shot while batting for the Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash. Like many of the likable all-rounder’s gaffes, it was no big deal, but in a world where taking offence appears to have become a popular pastime, it’s probably better to be safe than sorry.

Flintoff’s most famous apology came in 2007, when after a night on the lash with some team-mates in St Lucia in the wake of a Cricket World Cup defeat at the hands of New Zealand, he decided it would be a good idea to join Ian Botham for a nightcap. Flintoff was walking along the beach at the time and believed the Sky Sports pundit to be attending a soiree on an unspecified boat moored further out at sea.

“I thought: ‘I can’t swim … that would be dangerous,’ so I was going to get a kayak,” Flintoff would later tell Piers Morgan in an episode of Life Stories. “I couldn’t find the oars, so I dragged this pedalo into the water. The next morning I woke up, I was on my bed and … still wet and … sand between my toes.” Oops.

Reports vary on what exactly happened between the moment Flintoff dragged his vessel into the water and woke up in his hotel room, not least because there seems to be a very good chance he doesn’t actually remember. While he insists he never actually set sail, the general consensus appears to be that at some point he fell out or off of it and had to be rescued and helped ashore. Whatever happened, the metaphorical fallout was spectacular: the still bedraggled Flintoff was summoned to the hotel room of England coach Duncan Fletcher, stripped of the England vice-captaincy, dropped for England’s next game and subsequently forced to explain himself to members of a press pack who almost certainly couldn’t believe their luck.


Andrew Flintoff offers his apology sat next to Duncan Fletcher in St Lucia.

Andrew Flintoff offers his apology sat next to Duncan Fletcher in St Lucia. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty Images

“I’m embarrassed and ashamed,” announced a chastened Flintoff, who looked genuinely contrite. “It shouldn’t have happened. There’s no secret we had a few drinks on Friday. It’s been documented in the press what happened afterwards with a little bit of poetic licence. There was water involved and a pedalo as well. But I don’t want to go into detail. I don’t think my life was in danger.”

During his long walk of shame across the hotel lobby into the press conference, Flintoff admitted that he was unable to make eye contact with England fans “who were only months previously cheering my name and high-fiving me” but were now “shaking their heads”. A few minutes later, on the return journey, the same supporters greeted him with loud applause.

6) Tiger Woods apologises to a hand-picked audience

When it emerged in 2010 that Tiger Woods had spent years philandering with a bevy of cocktail waitresses, porn stars and assorted other cliches behind the back of his wife Elin Nordegren, the golfer laid low for a couple of months before attempting to pitch his way out of the bunker of shame in which he’d found himself with his sand wedge of regret.

In front of a carefully hand-picked gathering made up of sympathetic press, friends, business associates and his mother, among others, the golfer proceeded to apologise for everything while admitting very little in a televised mea culpa that lasted almost 10 minutes and pointedly referenced his many good works for charity before concluding with one of his all-too-regular broadsides at the media for bothering his family.

Quite why Woods felt the need to apologise to so many people for something that was absolutely none of their concern remains unclear, although he did offer a clue. “As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words,” he said. He wasn’t wrong; it came in the form of a divorce settlement estimated in some quarters to be as much as $750m.

The Guardian

Leave a Reply