All of these fallen stars are begging for our forgiveness, but their vague, evasive apologies give us no sense of what they’re sorry for having done.
They’re always apologizing to us, those testosterone-boosted athletes and libidinous politicians. Blood-doping, cancer-fighting hero Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that “certainly I’m a flawed character…[who] viewed this situation as one big lie.” Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, while maintaining that his tryst with a maid didn’t “involve violence, constraint, or aggression,” nonetheless described it as a “moral fault.” Cannon-armed former Pitt Panther Dan Marino ‘fessed up to fathering a child out of wedlock, explaining to reporters that “I take full responsibility both personally and financially for my actions now as I did then…[and] we mutually agreed to keep our arrangement private to protect all parties involved.”
Apologizing in such a vague and empty way is the best way to advance the news cycle, I suppose. “Ok, we’ve got that one out of the way, Governor Schwarzenegger, now let’s focus on your next crummy action film” goes the prevailing logic. Yet this incessant search for public forgiveness, commenced only after the act has been discovered, has made it very difficult to separate the venial sins from the mortal ones. What is one to make, for example, of Larry Craig’s 2007 statement that he “overreacted and made a bad decision” in an airport restroom? A “bad decision” in what sense? In the sense that he got caught? Or in the sense that the act of surreptitious bathroom-bangin’ is somehow malum in se? And what if he and his spouse, as many such spouses do, had some sort of unspoken understanding? Would he then have to apologize to her for apologizing to everyone else?
This gets us nowhere. Mark Foley resigned from Congress after making unwanted advances to a minor in his employ, leaving us with naught but “I am deeply sorry and I apologize for letting down my family and the people of Florida I have had the privilege to represent” as expiation for his misdeeds. Philosophical quarrels over the seemingly arbitrary (although assuredly not capricious) nature of age of consent laws aside, how is one middle-aged man’s failure to control his lustful impulses any business of yours or mine? Of course, as with the Strauss-Kahn contretemps and whatever the heck was going on with John Edwards and Elliot Spitzer, there are serious and fraught issues of sex, power, and exploitation to be considered. A paint-by-numbers public apology, however, hides more than it reveals. It amounts to little besides a call to go “back to business” until the next rumor, whatever it might be, is unearthed. This was, I believe, the great skill of Bill Clinton: he pushed back against each fresh revelation, giving as little ground as possible, buttressing his not-so-inevitable ascent to power with unmatched damage control.
Many of us harbor some notion of “the right” in matters of sexual conduct–often a notion that exists alongside an ability to completely overlook “the right” when opportunity knocks–and are utterly intolerant of deviations from this standard. Why we continue to act this way, in light of centuries of experience with human behavior, is puzzling, but accords with a tradition–particularly strong in the New England states, and now carried on by the Puritans’ less theologically rigorous Evangelical successors–of pillorying and ostracizing those who are unfortunate enough to get caught for doing the same things that everyone else does. So it is that poor Ronaiah Tuiasosopo has to mortify himself for his extremely complicated relationship with the disgraced gridiron star Manti Te’o before the disapproving gaze of Dr. Phil McGraw, notwithstanding the fact that quite a few other adolescents have harnessed the power of the Internet to do even stranger things.
But what of the PED confessions? These, I would argue, are the most ludicrous and unnecessary spectacles of all. Why must Lance Armstrong, an individual who, blood-doping or no, performed in a manner that even the most BALCO-treated of us never could, be raked over the coals? Because he lied so that he wouldn’t hurt Bill Simmons’ feelings? Jim Jividen and I have both written at length about the silliness of this form of outrage, and I don’t want to extend this essay unduly by recapitulating those points. Suffice it to say that in fields of endeavor where nearly every worker is doing something–protein supplements, vitamins, stem cell treatments, deer antler spray–to modify his or her body, what else is the athlete (etymologically speaking, the person “who competes for a prize”) to do but train and dope with equal gusto? The solemnity of Jimmie Foxx’s statistics might be of some concern to Bob Costas, who was never a professional athlete, but it shouldn’t matter a whit to Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, or anyone else trying to secure financial well-being before his prime wage-earning years are over.
Lloyd Blankfein and George Soros, bless their hearts, have never apologized for the various economic collapses that they triggered. Blankfein, in fact, assured us proles that he was “doing God’s work.” Should some poor (in spirit, anyway) and cognitively dissonant cancer survivor have to act otherwise? Part of me wishes that Armstrong would’ve gone on Oprah’s show and said the following:
I’m sorry I hurt your feelings, my fellow Americans. I know how closely all 300 million of you watch professional cycling. I mean, I can’t walk into a sports bar without seeing at least five or six of the HD screens tuned to a big bike race. Hell, it’d probably be the national pastime if racing bikes didn’t cost several thousand bucks and inner-city kids didn’t prefer engaging in activities with far less expensive equipment. At any rate, it breaks my heart to think that anyone on the planet was stupid enough to believe that the impossible times being posted by me and my fellow cyclists were anything but the work of advanced chemistry labs that allowed us to train almost twice as long as the great racers from 5 decades ago, probably none of whom you can name. I’m really sorry I broke Miguel Indurain’s records, most of which were undoubtedly the result of a similar training regimen supplemented by weaker chemicals. I mean, it’s not Miguel’s fault he didn’t have access to the better performance-enhancing drugs–he didn’t ask to be born when he was! Oh how I wish that your illusions could’ve been spared. Isn’t it pretty to think that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis’ amazing in-season comeback from an injury that once took 6-12 months to heal was the result of naught but old-fashioned, all-American stick-to-itiveness? Isn’t it swell to believe that the Alabama Crimson Tide football team consisted entirely of sweet amateur kids who never got college credit for nonexistent courses or took so much as a sawbuck in under-the-table booster money? And heck, isn’t it delightful to imagine that, with little beyond a well-balanced, fiber-rich diet and thirty minutes of exercise per week, you could age as gracefully as Demi Moore or Sylvester Stallone? No, folks, I’m sorry that I or anyone else who has ever accomplished anything of significance did so in a less than savory manner. I’m sorry you were duped and misled. I can speak only for my own ruse, though. As for the rest…well, I suppose you’ll have to wait until these millions of other insignificant scams and frauds are exposed, one by one, at which point you’ll all be bitter old codgers who think Obama’s in the closet and have started to doubt the veracity of the moon landing. Before I go, however, here’s one last myth that I’d like to shatter: were you selfless souls in my position, you’d have cast aside untold millions and cycled clean. TTFN!