I was in my car on Sunday morning en route to my first swim meet since the heart surgery (I was very pleased with my butterfly swims; not so happy with my god-awful freestyle) and I happened to come upon a local golf show here in Washington hosted by Steve Czaban, whose weekday show I appear on once a week.
As luck would have it, Czaban and his co-hosts—local golf pros—were interviewing a guy from The Middle Atlantic PGA about—you guessed it—the ending of The PGA. If I remembered his name I’d used it, but I don’t. The guy was basically blathering The PGA’s company line about how David Price did nothing wrong in not making sure Dustin Johnson knew he was in a bunker on that fateful 18th hole at goofy Whistling Straits nine days ago.
I’m not here to go over that whole mess yet again. I’ve made my position—which is backed up by most professional rules officials—clear and I’ve tried to clear up a lot of the factual inaccuracies that have been bandied about since the incident occurred: that rules officials aren’t supposed to give players warnings about potential rules violations (wrong); that not all groups at the PGA have rules officials walking with them (wrong) and that there was no change in the PGA of America’s approach to those bunkers in 2010 from 2004 (wrong, many were designated waste areas in 2004. That was a mistake repeated by this rules guy on Sunday).
My point here is this: Why is it so hard for people in sports—and in life—to simply say, “I blew it?” I make mistakes all the time. I have a bad habit, because I have a good memory, of not double-checking facts I THINK I know and sometimes I get it wrong. But that’s not really the kind of mistake I’m talking about. You CAN’T argue when you get the facts wrong. If I say Alfonso Soriano hit the home run to put the Yankees up 2-1 in game seven of the 2001 World Series in the ninth inning when he hit it in the eighth inning (as I once did, I would have SWORN it was the ninth) I’m wrong—no ifs ands or buts.
The kind of mistake I’m talking about is the one Price made. Or, on a much broader level the kind Roger Clemens made—not just screaming he’d never used steroids but swearing under oath he’d never used steroids. You see umpires in baseball do it all the time: they blow a call, they KNOW they’ve blown the call and so they overreact when someone argues and toss the guy from the game—making their mistake even worse. Recently I saw an umpire toss Ryan Zimmerman for throwing his bat down after striking out swinging. Zimmerman never looked back so he didn’t ‘show up,’ the umpire but got tossed anyway. Why? Because the ump, apparently reading Zimmerman’s mind, knew Zimmerman was upset about a 3-1 pitch he thought was ball four.
I still remember when I was researching, ‘Living on the Black,’ seeing an umpire named Tony Randazzo miss a call at first base by a full step—a much worse call than the one Jim Joyce made earlier this year to cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game. When Mets manager Willie Randolph came out of the dugout, largely to keep Tom Glavine from getting tossed from the game (Glavine, who might have argued five calls in 23 years) he said to Randazzo, “look Tony, just tell me you missed it and I’ll go back in the dugout.”
Randazzo began screaming at Randolph that he had NOT missed it and ended up ejecting Randolph. The next day, knowing Randazzo would have had the chance to see the replay, I knocked on the door of the umpires room and asked to speak to Randazzo. He wouldn’t even come to the door to talk to me.
That’s the opposite, as we all know, of the approach Joyce took. He saw the tape and instantly said he’d blown it, even went to find Galarraga to apologize. So what happened? Joyce almost became a heroic figure for simply saying, “I got it wrong, I’m sorry.”
Sure it’s tough to look in the mirror and know you’ve screwed up—especially in public—but admitting it is always the best way to go. My worst public mistake, as many if not most people know (God knows I get reminded about it enough) came during a Navy-Duke football game five years ago. The officiating was brutal—so bad that Navy Coach Paul Johnson after WINNING the game chased the officials off the field) and I—inexcusably, regardless of the circumstances, muttered ‘f------ referees,’ after an especially bad call, somehow forgetting I was on the air.
As soon as I realized what I’d done, I pulled myself off the air, found Eric Ruden, who runs the Navy radio network, told him what happened and offered to go on the air and resign. Both Ruden and Navy AD Chet Gladchuk said absolutely not, so I compromised and went back on and apologized. That was not—as Eric and Chet had said—‘the end of it;’—they had to fend off calls from some in the media that week wanting to know why I wasn’t going to be suspended.
“John made a mistake, he offered to resign and then he apologized on the air within minutes of the incident,” Eric told the AP that week. “We don’t need to do anything more.”
For the most part, people said and wrote that I should be given credit for instantly apologizing. To me, it was the only thing to do. Saying the refs were brutal would have just been excuse-making. It didn’t matter. I was un-professional.
How would people have reacted if Clemens had admitted what he’d done and said he was sorry the day after the Mitchell Report came out in 2007? They would have ended up cheering him for being man enough to admit he had behaved badly. Heck, look at how Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez have been treated for ‘confessing.’
In 1993 a freshman Navy kicker named Ryan Bucchianeri missed an 18-yard-field goal in a driving rain at the buzzer that would have won the Army-Navy game. He didn’t hide from the media when the game was over, he stood up and said, ‘I lost the game.’ He refused excuses offered him—wet field, wet ball, rain in his face. He became a national hero to the point where Sports Illustrated did a nine-page story on him the next fall.
On the other hand there’s the newly-single Tiger Woods, who stalled and hid and then refused to take questions when he finally made a public appearance almost three months after he piled his car into a fire hydrant. Everything he’s done this year in public has been part of a strategy to get sponsors back. If you think you’ve seen any genuine remorse or sorrow, you’re just wrong. He’s sorry he got caught and that’s it. The public knows that which is why there might be many who want to see him be a great golfer again but there are few who sympathize with him on any level. If he’d REALLY been sorry and said so and acted that way—rather than blaming everyone else most of the time—people would not have condoned what he did but would have been more forgiving.
The same goes on a totally different level for David Price and The PGA of America. If Price had said when it was all over, “you know hindsight is 20-20 but I wish I’d said something to Dustin—especially given what happened,”—that would have been pretty much the end of it. The mistake would still be there, but Price would be remembered for grace under pressure (like Joyce) after an officiating mistake. Now, as the PGA and guys like the Middle Atlantic PGA guy continue to make mealy-mouthed excuses, the entire PGA looks bad.
From bad can come good. But not until you admit to your mistake.