Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hard To Say He's Sorry

Apologizing for a big mistake is one of the hardest things to do, especially if you're Jim Tressel.

After a few non-apologies for covering up a scandal and then lying about it to the NCAA, the Vest finally owned up to his actions on Thursday, requesting that his two-game suspension be increased to five games for the 2011 season—the same of his suspended players.

"Throughout this entire situation, my players and I have committed ourselves to facing our mistakes and growing from them. We can only successfully do this together," he said in a statement.

Since Tressel was busted on March 8th, this was actually just the second time he admitted wrongdoing without equivocation. The first was two days earlier at Cardington-Lincoln High School when he said "I've made a mistake that I'm very sorry for."

Before that, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on March 14th, Tressel was in dire need of a dictionary.
"I sincerely apologize for what we've been through. I apologize for the fact I wasn't able to find the ones to partner with to handle our difficult and complex situation. I also apologize because I'm going to have some sanctions."
This doesn't sound bad on the first read. But take another look. Here's what peeved me:
  • Tressel's curious choice of words. He didn't apologize for what he did, which was hiding the possibility that five of his players sold OSU memorabilia to a local tattoo artist. Instead, he apologized for "what we've been through." He doesn't express remorse for lying to the NCAA about the situation—just that he's sorry he'll be punished for getting caught.

  • Tressel apologized for not being able to "find the ones to partner with" to deal with the matter, which is interesting considering that the only action he apparently took was keeping the scandal buried. After he received the first e-mail from attorney Christopher Cicero on April 2nd, 2010, he responded with "Thanks. I will get on it ASAP."

    But instead, Tressel actually got off it. Two weeks later he responded to Cicero's follow-up e-mail—which included a longer laundry list of probable violations—with "Thanks for your help...keep me posted as to what I need to do if anything."

    "Keep me posted"—hardly an active stance, and hardly one Tressel should take after learning about serious allegations that he'd later tell the media were "a tremendous concern to me."
It gets worse.
As part of the school-imposed penalties announced last week, Tressel was publicly reprimanded and required to make a public apology. During a news conference last week in Columbus, Tressel never offered any such apology. So, before he was whisked off following the event, Tressel was asked if this speech served as his public repentance. He looked puzzled.

"I've tried to apologize all along," he said.
This is where a dictionary would serve Tressel well, because how else do you explain his confusion with contrition? It's times like these and after big losses where the man is just out of touch with reality. That or he thinks he can continue to slide by on his hitherto squeaky-clean image and by saying the right things, however untrue, dodgy, or disingenuous.

And that's what troubles me the most—that, during his 10 years at Ohio State, Tressel has seemed to fool everyone on persona alone: his ultra-conservative, Midwestern style; his buttoned-down, businesslike demeanor; his generic, too-perfect book titles; and his post-game lexicon that includes G-rated words like "neat" and "gosh".

Along with owning Michigan, it's this do-no-wrong public face that's given him a politician-like following and made him unimpeachable in the eyes of most Buckeye fans—not to mention the university itself. So it's not shocking that in the immediate wake of this scandal, Tressel's job was never in jeopardy—never mind that his contract merits termination in such a situation.

But it is disturbing, especially when trust somehow endures.
"Wherever we end up, Jim Tressel is our football coach," said Athletic director Gene Smith. "He is our coach, and we trust him implicitly."

Asked if he ever considered firing Tressel, OSU President Gordon Gee gave an emphatic "no," saying, "Are you kidding me? Let me be clear: I just hope the coach doesn't dismiss me."
But the truth is that Tressel's perceived integrity belies the fact that under the same circumstances, he's just just like any other college football coach—or politician—who breaks the rules in order to pursue his best interests.

And with unconditional loyalty bestowed upon him by the Buckeye faithful, it'll take a lot more than one apology from the Senator to lose his seat in the Horseshoe.