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Ken Schneck, PhD Headshot

Apologies Made Within A Day or Two Are Meaningless

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AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver states that gay guys would not be welcome in the NFL. Folks are outraged. 24 hours later, he apologizes saying that these feelings were "not in heart."

Charlie Sheen uses a homophobic slur to promote a nightclub. Folks are outraged. Within 48 hours, he apologizes, saying that he "meant no ill will."

Jason Alexander goes on The Late Late Show and calls cricket a "gay game." Folks are outraged. Within 24 hours, he apologizes, stating that he "played right into those hurtful assumptions and diminishment."

Paris Hilton gets caught in an audio recording calling gay men "disgusting" and theorizing (after conducting exhaustive scientific research), that most gay men likely have AIDS. Folks are outraged. That very same day, she apologizes (via her publicist), stating that "It was not her intent to make any derogatory comments about all gays."

Simply stated, apologies made within a day or two of making anti-gay comments are crap. Assuming that the apology does indeed come from the individual (publicists make a killing for a reason), a knee-jerk "I'm sorry!" rings hollow and insincere when it is issued mere heartbeats after the damning comment is made. My mother always told me that saying you're sorry is supposed to be the same thing as promising you will never do it again. And you cannot make that commitment within 24-48 hours of your oh-so-public, anti-gay incriminating act.

And it turns out, there's actual science connected with why these just-add-water apologies sound so inadequate. Several psychological studies have concluded that there are three components to an apology: expressions of empathy, offers of compensation and acknowledgement of the violation of social norms. There is no way that you can issue an effective apology until you have had time to fully process these three areas.

You cannot express empathy unless you can hear actual responses from those offended by your comment. This requires actual time spent with the LGBT community (and not just discussing it with your gay friends!). You cannot make an offer of compensation unless you can fully appreciate the impact of your anti-gay sentiments. This requires time for the dust to settle. And the acknowledgement of the violation of social norms, if it is to be a sincere acknowledgement, can only come when you have had time to posit your comments within the larger context of the power struggles for equality.

In this social media age of comments to a cab driver going viral, I understand the need to make a public statement as quickly as possible so as to minimize outrage. Taking responsibility is great. But don't apologize right off the bat. Instead, try this:

"I acknowledge that I made these comments and I need some time to fully think through why I said what I said. I will engage in both deep soul searching as well as service to the LGBT community so that I will hopefully emerge with a greater understanding of my words and the meaning behind them. Although I cannot require your patience, I do not want to issue an apology for that which I said a few hours ago without truly comprehending the origins and impact of my comments."

Celebrities, please feel free to cut-and-paste the above after you make your anti-gay remark.