If you’re on Twitter, you’re probably aware that Grantland EIC Bill Simmons has released an apology for the Dr. V story that’s had the internet upset for the last few days. If you’re not familiar with that story, this is a good summary by Melissa McEwan at Shakesville.
I fired off a couple of quick tweets about not finding Simmons’ apology all that impressive, and have ended up in a bit of a discussion with Tom Levenson and Janet D. Stemwedel about whether or not the apology was “good enough.” I hope someone not me Storifies it, because it’s turning into a good conversation, and my intent here is not to replicate that.
As I wrote up on Friday, there are four steps to an apology: Recognition, Responsibility, Remorse/Regret, Remedy. Apparently I need to add an overall piece of advice to that, which is “conciseness.” And that’s probably the biggest failure of Simmons’ apology: it stretches on for several pages. In fact, as I mentioned to Janet, it might be a “culture of Grantland” issue here: the winding narrative that Simmons attempts to create in his apology is reminiscent of Hannan’s original, winding story, complete with attempting to pivot on an “a-ha gotcha” moment. (While Hannan’s ‘gotcha’ was Dr V being trans, Simmons’ appears to be the admission that 15 people read the story and not one caught any of the numerous ethical and journalistic errors in the piece.)
So rather than walk back through the steps to an apology and show why Simmons failed, I thought I’d illustrate the principles of a good apology another way, and edit Simmons’ apology until it actually fits into the appropriate model of an apology. Because I do think Tom’s right; there are pieces of an apology in here, it’s just that they’re buried under defensiveness, back-patting, and justification.
An edited version of Bill Simmons’ Grantland/Dr. V apology, as done by Kelly Hills, to prove a point.
“How could you guys run that?”
We started hearing that question on Friday afternoon, West Coast time, right as everyone was leaving our Los Angeles office to start the weekend. We kept hearing that question on Friday night, and all day Saturday, and Sunday, too. We heard it repeatedly on Twitter and Facebook. We sifted through dozens of outraged emails from our readers. We read critiques on various blogs and message boards, an onslaught that kept coming and coming. I don’t remember the exact moment when I realized that we definitely screwed up, but it happened sometime between Friday night and Saturday morning. On Sunday, ESPN apologized on our behalf. I am apologizing on our behalf right now.
We made one massive mistake. I have thought about it for nearly three solid days, and I’ve run out of ways to kick myself about it. How did it never occur to any of us? How? How could we ALL blow it? That mistake: Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us. Nobody ever brought it up.
To my infinite regret, we never asked anyone knowledgeable enough about transgender issues to help us either (a) improve the piece, or (b) realize that we shouldn’t run it. That’s our mistake ”” and really, my mistake, since it’s my site. So I want to apologize. I failed.
More importantly, I realized over the weekend that I didn’t know nearly enough about the transgender community — and neither does my staff. I read Caleb’s piece a certain way because of my own experiences in life. That’s not an acceptable excuse; it’s just what happened. In the future, we will be sophisticated enough ”” at least on this particular topic. We weren’t educated, we failed to ask the right questions, we made mistakes, and we’re going to learn from them. Moving forward, we will learn from what happened.
Is it a perfect apology? No. But it’s an awful lot better than the one that was published. And while I’ve rearranged the content a bit and cleared away much of the detritus, I didn’t add any material to what turns out to have potential to be a good apology, but is being clogged up with an awful lot of content that suggests Simmons doesn’t really get it.
So remember, if you have to apologize for something you did: Keep it short and concise, recognize your mistake, accept responsibility for what you did, express remorse/regret, and offer a remedy.