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What Happened?

Ron Artest is sorry. Really.

In case you missed it, the Indiana Pacers star/badboy/thug was involved in a free-for-all last Friday night near the end of a game against the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich. An on-court shoving match quickly grew into a fight between players from both teams. Artest—who recently was suspended by his team for two days for requesting a few games off to recuperate from a “hectic schedule,” which at the time centered around the launch of his new rap album—walked away from the battle, and laid down on the scorer’s table, evidently in an attempt to show he was too cool to be intimidated.

A Detroit fan took exception to Artest’s laying down on the job, and launched a cup of beer at the player. Artest exploded, ran into the stands and began passing out free knuckle sandwiches to every paying customer he could reach. Well, the sandwiches weren’t exactly free; Artest will soon be paying millions of dollars for them.

Several fans were punched as the battle raged on. Artest did the most damage, though teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O’Neal managed to get in their licks too.

NBA Commissioner David Stern laid down the law less than two days two days later, suspending Artest for the next 72 games, while giving Jackson a 30-game unpaid vacation and O’Neal a 25 game suspension. In all, nine players were disciplined. The incident was so out of bounds that local authorities are now preparing to file criminal charges in the matter.

This isn’t a sports site, and really, I’m not going to comment extensively about who was right in this NBA meets Jerry Springer episode (yes, at one point a chair was thrown, making it an officially sanctioned Springer party). I will say that whoever threw the beer ought to get soaked with the normal legal penalties one would in such a case, and that any fan who stepped on the court ought to face trespassing and whatever other charges are the norm (and in most arenas and stadiums, the penalties for stepping on the field of play are announced over the PA system). And Artest probably got what he deserved. Certainly, getting bombed with a warm Old Style was no picnic, and anyone would get mad about such treatment. But punching a customer—in this case a fan—is dead wrong.

Anyway, after Stern announced the suspensions—fittingly enough, at Madison Square Garden—Artest said “I respect David Stern, but I don’t think he has been fair with me in this situation,” blah, blah.

Then he closed his comments:  “I also regret and apologize to fans who were upset by what happened.”

By “what happened”? So, Mr. Artest didn’t do anything…neither did his teammates, nor the opposing Pistons players, nor the fans? No one did anything. It was no one’s fault. I just “happened”?

This is another example of a disturbing trend, the new non-apology. It’s the same thing every time. No matter what the offense:  a borderline psychopathic powderpuff football game in Chicago, a “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl halftime show, or a mass murder, the perpetrator gets cornered and has no choice but to apologize. But it’s never “Yep, I lost my head and killed 12 people, and yep, it’s on film and I did tape a confession. I was wrong and I apologize to everyone I hurt when I did this. I am sorry for what I did.” No, in today’s world, it’s always “I apologize to anyone who was hurt or upset about what happened.”

That’s a couple of steps away from a real apology, in which one acknowledges wrongdoing, recognizes the injury he/she has caused, and accepts responsibility for his/her wrongful actions. The “what happened apology” is always preceded by “to anyone who was hurt” or “if anyone was offended by,” etc. So what’s being said is “OK, maybe some people were hurt or offended” which implies that it’s their fault for being so sensitive. What’s also being said is “well, it wasn’t my fault…it just happened.”

Wrong. “Happened” applies to occurrences that are beyond anyone’s control. Weather “happens.” Earthquakes “happen.” Lunar eclipses “happen.” Bill Clinton lying “happens.” Sprinting into the crowd and an NBA game and slugging a few fans—obnoxious or not—doesn’t “happen.” It’s something you, Mr. Artest, did. Deliberately planning a “wardrobe malfunction” and making a boob of yourself in front of 140 million viewer doesn’t just “happen,” it’s something you did, Mr. Timberlake and Ms. Jackson.

So by saying “what happened” what you’re really saying is that the incident was beyond you control. And since it was beyond your control, it wasn’t your fault. And since it wasn’t your fault, but you’re sort of apologizing, you’re really apologizing for something that wasn’t your fault. All of which means that really, you are the victim. You are the good guy.

That’s not an apology. That’s not accepting responsibility. In fact, those that are mouthing these non-apologies are simply arrogant.

And if anyone’s offended by that, I’m sorry.

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