Sorry seems to be the easiest word in an election year

by | Jan 19, 2020 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 0 comments

It’s only taken three weeks, but I think I know what 2020 will be the year of:


They’re coming fast and furious. Celebrities. Politicians. Teachers. Corporations. Countries. Even churches — which, ironically, is where you used to go to apologize.

I base my prediction on recent trends. Here is just a small list of apologies that we have heard since last summer.

Iran apologized for shooting down a plane.

Actress Rose McGowan apologized to Iran.

A Georgia lawmaker apologized for saying Democrats are “in love with terrorists.”

A Michigan lawmaker apologized for saying male high school students “could have a lot of fun” with a young female reporter.

Talk show host Wendy Williams apologized for mocking Joaquin Phoenix’s looks.

Joaquin Phoenix apologized for outtakes from “Joker” that were shown on a talk show.

An airline in Hong Kong apologized for making a woman take a pregnancy test before she got on an airplane.

Walmart apologized for using deceased actor Paul Walker in a tweet.

A Buffalo-based food truck operator apologized for sending food to a detention center. Then, a week later, it apologized for apologizing.

Even Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist, apologized for a comment that sounded like a threat against her detractors.

And she was Time magazine’s Person of The Year.

We apologize for everything

Speaking of time, it apparently has no bearing on when you have to apologize.

Pop star Camilla Cabello apologized for old posts.

Singer Shawn Mendes apologized for old tweets.

A Philadelphia acting police commissioner apologized for an offensive T-shirt she wore — in the 1990s.

Canada’s prime minister apologized for wearing blackface in 2001.

New Zealand’s prime minister apologized for the government’s handling of a plane crash — 40 years ago!

And actress Rosanna Arquette actually tweeted she was sorry for being “born white.”

Can’t go back much further than that.

On Instagram, Justin Timberlake apologized to his wife, Jessica Biel.

Also on Instagram, Antonio Brown apologized to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and later to fans in general.

Instagram itself apologized to pole dancers — yes, pole dancers — for hiding some of their posts.

Twitter apologized for misusing people’s personal information.

And Facebook has apologized so many times it should have its own page labeled, “Yep, sorry again.”

Joe Biden apologized for comments about segregationalists.

Elizabeth Warren apologized to Native Americans.

An Alabama governor apologized for once wearing blackface.

An Alabama mayor apologized for a Facebook post suggesting LGBTQ people should be killed.

An Alabama superintendent apologized for his high school baseball players yelling slurs at a gay couple.

And an Alabama police department apologized for a post about mass shootings.

Lots of apologies coming out of Alabama.

Schools also do a great amount of apologizing. A North Carolina school system apologized after a teacher gave an assignment on slavery that asked the question, “How many slaves would be needed to equal at least four white people?”

A Kentucky school superintendent apologized for an employee who said a rival school’s kids “can’t even count to 100.”

A Babson College staffer apologized for a Facebook post suggesting Iran list 52 U.S. cultural sites it could bomb.

The University of Kansas apologized for having Snoop Dogg play an athletic rally.

And the Zac Brown Band apologized for using a person with dwarfism in an onstage skit.

That one just stood out.

Here’s why we’re doing it

What is behind all this apologizing? You would think, by the sheer numbers, that the world had developed a highly sensitive conscience.

I fear it’s something else. Apologizing has become the new defense. A preemptive block against a tidal wave of criticism, or a cure-all wall if you are too late to stop it.

Apologies — public ones — have become the pound of flesh that activists demand, and the springboard used by celebrities and politicians — who need others to like them — to get back into their followers’ good graces.

Social media has given us a million new ways to embarrass ourselves, and the raft of apologies over posts, tweets, and photos is proof. But it’s also a quick way to write a few remorseful words (or have someone else write them for you) without anyone being able to see or hear the contrition you really have.

And then there’s the actual wording of these apologies, which often follow a template of “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” which is not far from “it’s too bad you’re so easily offended” which is not far from “it’s your own stupid fault you’re so easily offended.”

Apologies should be sincere or they aren’t really apologies. Ben Franklin once said “never ruin an apology with an excuse.” Today, the apology often IS the excuse. I apologized, therefore my actions clearly aren’t me anymore.

Maybe we’re saying sorry too much. Maybe we’re saying it for the wrong things. But with 2020 being an election year, you can bet we’ll be saying it a lot more. There will be more apologies, and more calls for apologies, and more apologies for not apologizing sooner.

And I realize, in looking it over, that this column has gone on much longer than intended.

And I apologize.

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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