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Roethlisberger is Sorry…But About What?

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rhetorical analysis on April 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Recently, a Georgia District Attorney decided not to charge Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with sexual assault, due to a lack of evidence. In announcing the decision, the DA stated that his office was in no way condoning Roethlisberger’s actions by not charging him. The evidence simply wasn’t there to prove criminal activity. That’s very different than saying there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

After the announcement, Ben Roethlisberger read a brief statement, in which he offered an apology of sorts.


There’s a lot that could be analyzed in this short statement (including the same questions of sincerity, script reading and power that were problematic in Tiger Woods’ apology). But to keep this short, I’ll focus on the biggest issue I see with Roethlisberger’s “apology” – and that is the question of social values.

This is one of the most important underlying aspects of any apology, and it’s even more interesting when the apologist refers to his or her values, as Roethlisberger did near the end of his statement when he said he is committed to showing everyone his “true values.”

Why are Values So Important in Apologies?

The reality is, every apology is a discussion about values. Here’s why. Values help maintain a sense of order in a society. When people implicitly or explicitly accept those values, they are essentially accepting the terms and conditions of membership in that society.

When someone violates one of those values, it upsets that natural order – which results in conflict for the society as well as a sense of guilt and a loss of membership for the individual. To alleviate the conflict and be reaccepted in the group, the offender must expunge the guilt by offering an apology.

Through the apology process, then, people are actually negotiating their values. In other words, they’re making claims about what’s important to them, how they live together, and what they expect from one another.

So when a person offers an apology, that person is actually acknowledging that he should not have broken the value, and that he will live by that value going forward.

What IS Roethlisberger Sorry About Anyway?

With that in mind, let’s look at what Roethlisberger really said in his apology. To quote him, Roethlisberger said that he is “truly sorry for the disappointment and negative attention ” he brought to his family, teammates, the NFL, and others. The good news is, he actually admitted that the “disappointment” and “negative attention” were caused by his actions, rather than the situation. The bad news is, he’s really only saying he’s sorry for the negative attention, not the action that caused that attention. In other words, he’s sorry for the end result, not for the root cause.

To be fair, Roethlisberger does announce that he wants to take steps to earn the trust of his family, teammates, and fans. But without even implicitly acknowledging – let alone explicitly stating – what social values he broke or why they were wrong (i.e., how they hurt others…like, say, the victim), we’re really left wondering whether Roethlisberger is sorry at all or if he’ll refrain from such actions in the future.

The Takeaway Lesson

Before offering or accepting an apology, make sure the focus is on the right issue. Ask yourself: Who was directly and indirectly harmed? And, what is the underlying value that was broken? For example, if a husband apologizes for not doing the dishes, the dishes aren’t really the issue. The deeper issue probably relates to the values of “sharing the burden of household chores” or “respecting your spouse’s time.” Whether you’re the apologizer or the person receiving an apology, make sure the underlying value is the main point of the discussion and of the apology.

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