It’s so hard to say you’re sorry.
Witness former Nike track czar Alberto Salazar’s November attempt at apologizing after several women said he had publicly body-shamed them while they trained for the Nike Oregon Project.
“If any athlete was hurt by any comments that I have made, such an effect was entirely unintended, and I am sorry,” says Salazar, who is serving a four-year ban from the sport for violating anti-doping regulations.
It’s hard to miss the subtext in this classic “if-pology,” says Susan McCarthy, a San Francisco–based writer who cofounded sorrywatch.com, which tracks and dissects notable apologies: It’s all your fault if you were offended when I told you that you “had the biggest butt on the starting line,” even after you had qualified for the Olympics. (Yes, that’s an actual Salazar quote according to runner Amy Yoder Begley, per the New York Times.)
Or take Camas-based billionaire money manager Ken Fisher, who had to issue a mea culpa after remarks onstage at a financial industry conference in October in which he compared winning over clients to “trying to get into a girl’s pants.”
Initially, Fisher told a reporter for Bloomberg News his only regret was “accepting the speech invitation” in the first place, though he later acknowledged “this kind of language has no place in our company or industry.” Investors were not mollified. At presstime, Fisher Investments had lost about $3.9 billion in institutional assets, mostly from state-run pension funds.
And then there was the apology from former Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer, who stepped down after news broke in the Oregonian that higher-ups at the Portland-based global nonprofit had known for decades one of their founders had been accused of sexual abuse by his own daughter, yet took no action.
In his October letter of resignation, Keny-Guyer expressed genuine anguish over the situation but noted he hadn’t been privy to the full story of the abuse. He also mentioned that over his tenure as CEO, the nonprofit’s budget went from $10 million to $500 million.
“He talks a lot about himself, and he makes excuses,” says McCarthy. “And he doesn’t speak directly” to the victim.
Should you ever find yourself in a similar situation, now you know what not to do. Instead, says McCarthy: “Just say you’re sorry for what you did. Acknowledge the effect. Explain, but don’t excuse. Make amends if that is at all possible. Then stop talking, and let them have their say.”