Back when I was 10 or 11, my mom baked a cake for Dad’s office party. It was chocolate, and when it was completed Mom placed it on the top shelf of the refrigerator, covered by a sliver of tinfoil.
When nobody looked, I dipped my finger in the cake, looped it around the perimeter and hoped nobody would notice.
Of course, I was caught. And punished. I confessed, went to my room, stayed there for quite a long time.
If only I’d known then what I know now—thanks to professional sports.
In the real world, awful actions have consequences. In college and professional sports, awful actions also have consequences … unless, after being caught, you profess to “manning up by acknowledging your already acknowledged mistakes.” The first time I became fully aware of this phenomenon was back when Jason Giambi, then with the Yankees, admitted he’d used PED—after it became clear that he used PED. He was praised for holding a (all-time least-specific) press conference, and George Steinbrenner, the Yankee owner, sang Giambi’s praises for “taking responsibility.” The narrative repeated itself throughout the Mitchell Report revelations—folks coming clean after they’d already been exposed, then receiving curious praise for doing so.
Today, during his awful press conference, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell credited himself for taking responsibility of his Ray Rice-related mistakes—after repeatedly being flogged publicly for his Ray Rice-related mistakes. Eyes closed, one could almost feel Goodell’s elongated arm patting his big back, a firm, “Nice job, Buddy” accompanying the action. Hey, he manned up. He admitted his wrongdoing. He accepted responsibility.
Eh, here’s the thing. You don’t get (or deserve) credit for acknowledging your fuck-up after you’ve fucked up. Like, you’re caught eating the cake. Everyone knows you ate the cake. Your fingerprints are in the cake. Saying, “Mom, I admit it, I ate the cake”—no good. Does nothing.
But this is what passes for accountability in big-time sports. We offer second, third, fourth, fifth chances, often on the basis on one’s faux ability to confess to an already-confirmed misdeed.
Wanna man up? Wanna be credible?
Don’t make the mistake to begin with.