Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why is it so hard for people in sports—and in life—to simply say, “I blew it?”

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.


Anonymous said...

On the Juli Inkster disqualification, how did she violate the rule? 14.3 prohibits the use of an artificial device "that might assist him in making a shot." She didn't use the donut while "making a shot." She used it while waiting for 30 minutes to reach the tee. At least with Dustin Johnson the Rule bore some relation to play. Grounding a club in a hazard gave him an advantage in "making the shot."

Tim said...

This is a problem in everyday life, not just sports. And with sports, you compound the fact that the admission is to the world, not just your family, co-workers, boss, etc.

For whatever reason, society has gone to an excuses mode - there is a drug for everything, a psychologist there to tell you its not your fault its the fault of others, etc - life just isn't allowed to play out with ups and downs with everything. There HAS to be a reason and only the strongest and best can stand up and say 'You know what, I just messed up.'

So, normal day to day life, sports, politics, you name it, its all designed to blame others, and not take blame yourself.

OK, my mini rant is over.

Ed Tracey said...

John, I agreed with (and thanked you) your position in your first column about the PGA debacle. Now, I think it's time to walk away from this issue (after all, the title of your previous post was "and the last note on rules officials").

Jim said...

Remember when Chrysler got caught selling rehabbed wrecks as new cars? A lot of people don't because Lee Iacocca held a press conference, said it was wrong, they made restitution to the buyers and apologized. It's amazing that people in the public spotlight can't learn this lesson.

Hugh said...

John, David Brooks had an interesting op-ed in the NYT yesterday that I would commend to you. While it gets to your point from a very different direction, I believe it has the same basic premise. In an ideal world mistakes in ideas or actions would be used as an opportunity to learn and improve. In our country today they are all too often seen as weakness.

PeteWill said...


Wish you would comment on PGA Championship being replaced by The Players as the fourth major. That's what I would like to see.

The reason Inkster violated rule 14-3 is specifically addressed in Decision 14-3/10. Anonymous and others need to do more than just read the rule book in deciphering the rules. They need to look at the decisions.

Mr. X said...

Sawgrass is more Pete Dye nonsense. Again, put a clown's mouth on 17.

Anonymous said...

I am the "Anonymous" who posed the question on whether Inkster actually violated 14.3. I have now read Decision 14-3/10 and would agree that it "appears" to be covered. I stand by the fact that it is not covered by the plain language of the Rule itself. The USGA has assumed the role of Humpty Dumpty. To paraphrase "Words mean what we say they mean."

Tommy said...

John - in the same realm, I was reading earlier about Bobby Bowden finally talking about his resignation, and clicked him in the subjects on the right as I noticed you obviously have written on him.....you seem to have had it dead on in the beginning. So, in honor of todays topic of doing fessing up, I think FSU should be blasted for trying to spread the farce of his 'resignation.'

By the way, for the others of you that don't have excess time that I have today, here is the link to the post from Dec, the day after Bowden was canned....


Anonymous said...

Your obvious personal dislike of Tiger Woods is causing you to violate your own ethics..how about admitting how you blew this. During the PGA, which I attended, you attacked Tiger on the air for commenting on the poor condition of the greens. You went so far as to say "He just can't bring himself to not blame someone or something" and you defended David Fey for saying "the world #2 has it correct about the greens and the world #1 has it wrong. Here are the facts that somehow you didn't research or chose to ignore. As a spectator stationed near a green I heard no less than 11 players walk buy and comment to either their caddies or playing partner some variation of "these greens are ridiculous." Incredibly Tom Watson was quoted as saying "these greens are like putting on the back of a turtle." That quote was seen in many media outlets but somehow you chose to ignore a comment by a respected veteran like Watson because it just didn't fit your agenda of trashing Tiger Woods or making it look like Tiger was the lone malcontent commenting about the greens when there was widespread displeasure about the condition of the greens.

Mark said...

Those were some good examples of apologizing after a clear mistake but I don't think I would put the Navy kicker's actions in that category.

I mean, the guy messed up a play - in this case a kick. Every football game has missed plays. If we had to hear an apology after each one, there would be 30-40 apologies after every game.

And he did NOT lose the game. Teams win and lose games. Did Navy's quarterback not miss any passes? The defenders not blow any coverages? I don't recall the running backs running for 400 yards. Did the coaches not make any bad play calls?

Now the kicker can certainly be commended for standing up after the game and not making any excuses for missing the kick. But apologize? No, he does not owe anyone an apology.

Anonymous said...

John this is the most self righteous post ever. I wish all you so called Pundits would stop all tell us what Tiger and the rest of the World should do.

You are a very good book writer but I don't subscribe to the JF rule of logic in all things Sports related..thank goodness for that!

A for the last time, we get it your a Tiger Hater...now that's he's divorced and fallen from grace is it not time to turn the Chapter.

It's been a steady drip drip drip..my word Man... give it a rest!!

Erik J. Barzeski said...

Another day, another "Tiger sucks and here's why" rant embedded in a seemingly unrelated article.

Tiger did apologize. He said he was sorry. He said he made mistakes.

He did exactly what you said athletes should do, but it doesn't count because you weren't able to believe his apology???

Gimme a break.

Anonymous said...

Really...Furyk oversleeps for the pro-am, and is DQ'ed from the Barclays?? What other sport is this possible in for the 'playoffs'?

Geez, the PGA Tour keeps proving itself minor league in terms of entertainment sports.

Dan said...


Interesting that you put up this blog post hours before the same umpire (Scott Barry) who tossed Zimmerman once again embarassed himself by baiting Ryan Howard into an ejection in the 14th inning of last night's Phillies/Astros game. If you haven't seen the full clip of the Howard at-bat, I urge you to watch it on mlb.com.

Howard was at the plate and with an 0-1 count tried to check his swing on a low-away breaking pitch. It was a close one, and Barry said that he went. Howard didn't like the call but was also disgusted with himself for even starting to swing at the pitch, so reacted with some disgusted body language. Barry clearly imitates Howard's body language several times, prompting Howard to say something to home plate ump Greg Gibson. Howard then steps out of the box to cool off a bit and Barry angrily gestures twice for him to get back into the box. On the next pitch, Howard attempts to check his swing again (replays show he did), but Barry rang him up on the appeal. Howard tossed his bat in disgust, and Barry immediately ejected him. (For those keeping score at home, that was only Howard's second career ejection.) At that point, Howard went ballistic... and rightly so.

It was one of the worst cases of umpire baiting I've ever seen... right up there with some of Cowboy Joe West's finest efforts. And it was done by a guy who is a minor league ump playing a fill-in role.

He also ejected Pudge Rodriguez the day before the Zimmerman incident.

Anonymous said...

um... and you and the duke soccer players?

Frank said...

I good recent example of "I blew it" was reported yesterday by ESPN.

Howard Webb, the ref for the World Cup final said that he should have sent off deJong for his kick into the chest of Xabi Alonso.

Good for him!

Jon said...


I'm the "Middle Atlantic PGA" guy Czaban was talking to on air. I support your right to disagree with the ruling or David Price's actions at the PGA. However, you were incorrect in saying that there were "waste bunkers" in 2004. I correctly informed the audience that they initially had bunkers outside the ropes as "Through the Green" before changing their minds before the event started because of the practicality of the situation. You called me out for being wrong. Can you "admit to your mistake" or is that only for others?

Jon Guhl
Middle Atlantic PGA

PS If you would like to talk Czabe knows how to reach me.