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The Mind of the Hall of Fame Voter

The Top 10 Sports Apologies (That Never Happened)

Lance Armstrong is headed to Oprah's couch. So since we're on the topic … does anyone else have something to say? (Looking at you, Calipari.)

Lance Armstrong caused a major kerfuffle this week — MAJOR — by scheduling an interview with Oprah Winfrey that will air January 17. Their conversation will reportedly be “no-holds-barred,” making it totally different from those lamewad “holds-barred” conversations Anderson Cooper is always having, and raising hopes that (a) Lance is intending to confess to doping and apologize for his years of lying to the public, and (b) Oprah will respond to his confession by executing an MMA-style triangle lock and choking him out on the mat. Either way, the news got us thinking: What other sports villains should turn to Oprah to begin their long and painful work of insincerely miming penitence for as long as it takes their Q-rating to nudge back into Dancing With the Stars territory?

Important note: There’s no way around it; some of the people on this list are dead. This does not, in our view, disqualify them from going on TV. This is Oprah, guys. Everybody gets time machines.

10. John McEnroe (“In hindsight, I might have been rude.”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. Oprah doesn’t fuck with location shoots for anything less than eight majors.

The Apology: “You know, you get to be my age, you look back. You look back at the highs, but you also look back at all the times you called a chair umpire ‘A soulless pustule who I would stomp on if I didn’t know that your oozing corpse would ruin the tread on my Nikes, you lingering, putrid sheep fart.’ Was that respectful, Oprah? Was that nice? It’s like … it’s like I just don’t know anymore.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “C’mere, John! You look like you could use a hug.”

Six Months Later: McEnroe is elected to the Senate, appointed to the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

9. Michael Jordan (“I totally made my high school basketball team.”)

The Setting: The fireside lounge at MJ’s favorite ski lodge in Aspen. MJ is wearing a black turtleneck and one of his nicest solo dress earrings. His jeans … it’s better not to talk about his jeans. Jackson Pollock’s forgotten blue sausages. Oprah is decked out in head-to-toe red. That’s a tip-off, but it’s fine. You can’t take the Chicago out of Oprah.

The Apology: “I couldn’t believe people believed it. I mean, for years. It was like, hello? I AM MICHAEL JORDAN. You think I’ve ever been cut from anything in my life? I played JV for a year, no big whoop. I averaged 79 points a game on JV. You know how many points Patrick Ewing averaged on his sophomore JV team? I do, because I looked it up. Forty-seven points. I used that for motivation. Wrote it down in my locker in ’97. Patrick Ewing should never have gotten within 35 points of me at the JV level. You know what Patrick Ewing’s golf handicap is? It’s a joke. I made a spreadsheet. Patrick Ewing is garbage. I may play the Masters next year. Tiger’s vulnerable, Oprah. He’s a wounded doe. I may draw an arrow from my quiver and bring him down for good. You don’t think I could bow-hunt a human being, Oprah? I’m MICHAEL JORDAN. I could bow-hunt anything I wanted. Karl Malone? You want to talk about the Mailman? Karl Malone couldn’t bring down a wounded Tiger Woods with an iPhone and a bazooka. I’ll do it Robin Hood–style. Just let him loose in the forest. Give him a three-day head start. I’ll track him on foot. Navigate by the stars. One shot. Kerthwack. Oh, uh, and I’m sorry my lies ruined my high school coach’s life.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “You had me at hello.”

Six Months Later: Hanes’s “American Redemption” campaign reestablishes MJ as America’s preeminent wearer of bacon-neck-free T-shirts.

8. Barry Bonds (“Sometimes I’d look at my own head, and I’d go, ‘What is up with that?'”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. Somber mood lighting. Barry looking uncomfortable in an oversize black suit. You can’t say he’s let himself go since the end of his playing days. He looks strong, an appearance he validates by ripping a section of Oprah’s couch in half when the makeup guy gets concealer up his nose. His head is covered in a fine sheen of guilt-sweat. Oprah is in deep purple and appears to be wearing a veil.

The Apology: “People had names for it. The Cream, I guess. That was one. The Clear. Rub this on your stomach, swallow this at seven o’clock. I looked at myself as a science experiment. I hit baseballs for a living, and I decided it was my job to use any technique — legal or illegal, no limits — to get better at hitting baseballs. How good could one person get if you combined natural talent with science? I saw that as my mission. I’m not defending myself here. It’s just that I was obsessed. We did things no one knew about, things no one still knows. I had bought a castle in Germany back in ’92 as a tax shelter, and it was in the lab there that I did most of my research. Worked with lightning, worked with a lot of electricity. Mostly by the light of the moon. I had an assistant, Karlheinz. He was a hunchback, but he was loyal. We’d dig up the corpses of recently hanged men to dissect them and use their body parts. So many bodies. I’d work through the night, sawing. A lot of nights it was just me and the distant, lonely howling of a wolf. Mountains silhouetted in the window. That was a good time. Of course, we had to abandon the castle when the villagers came with torches. They threw around a lot of words. ‘Steroids,’ they called it. ‘Unholy.’ ‘Against God’s plan.’ I’d like to apologize to those villagers now … as well as everybody watching from home, of course. My left arm belonged to a murderer. I can’t always control it. Don’t come too close. I once killed a man for his eyeballs. I’m so sorry.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “I feel lied to, and I feel betrayed.”

Six Months Later: Bonds is tragically alienated from the sport he dominated and loved. Weird, right? He’s a guest judge on The X Factor.

7. Marge Schott (“My love of Hitler blinded me.”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. The former Cincinnati Reds owner is looking craggy and miserable in a team pullover she bought at T.J. Maxx for $8.99. It’s a factory second, but it was heavily marked down. Actually, it reads “RDES.” Can’t argue with the price, though. She’s smoking and absently petting her St. Bernard, Schottzie 06. Oprah is wearing jeans and a sweater and has just given each member of the audience their own Planet Hollywood franchise.

The Apology: “Was it wrong to use racial slurs when describing my own players? Maybe. Was it wrong to talk in a caricaturish ‘me-so-solly’ accent when describing my meeting with the prime minister of Japan? Again: maybe. Was it wrong to give a speech to the Ohio County Treasurers Association in which I declared, ‘Only fruits wear earrings’? I’m not going to say it was or it wasn’t. It’s debatable. We could go around in circles all day on this.

“If I’ve done anything wrong, Oprah, it’s not that I hated too much. It’s that I loved too much. Only, in my case, I happened to love Adolf Hitler. In retrospect, that was unfortunate. It would have been easier if I’d loved, say, Jerry Stiller. Partly because we kind of look alike. But I didn’t. I loved Hitler. Not a great move, emotionally. I get that. But I never, ever would have made repeated pro-Nazi comments to the media, on top of all the other racist and homophobic stuff I said, if I didn’t love Hitler truly, purely, and with my whole heart. Don’t condemn me for my love, America. Forgive me, I beg you. Obviously I’m only talking to white people here.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “Mrs. Schott, I don’t think you know what love is.”

Six Months Later: “Mrs. Schott, I don’t think you know what love is” is regarded as one of the biggest TV moments of the decade. Schottzie 06 comes down with hip dysplasia, like so many representatives of her noble breed.

6. John Calipari (“Yeah, no, I cheated.”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. Calipari’s Zegna has pinstripes inside its pinstripes (the “Wall Street fractal”). Villanova coach Jay Wright, watching from home, clenches both fists and resolves to devise a suit that pulls off the elusive quadruple-Möbius pinstripe that pinstripe heir Abraham K. Pinstripe famously declared “impossible” in 1981. Nothing that happens today will stop the NCAA’s Pinstripe Wars from escalating. Oprah knows this, and looks resigned.

The Apology: “Sure, rules were broken. Rules were broken all the time. Some days we’d come into the office, I mean my assistants and me, and we’d get out the NCAA manual — and let me tell you, that book is a whopper; just picking that thing up is a workout — and one of us would open to a random page, and we’d say, ‘Well, have we broken that rule this week?’ And if we hadn’t, whoever could break it first would get to name his favorite kind of ice cream. And when we’d all go to Friendly’s after practice, the other guys had to buy that guy his favorite. Mint caramel mocha. Oreo praline surprise. You name it. After a while, and I’m being honest here, I think we were mostly cheating for the ice cream. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Oprah. Racking up Final Four appearances was nice. We all liked Final Fours. But man. The thrill of having my assistants hand me a smooth double-scooper of butternut mocha chunk was behind a whole lot of improper phone calls, let me tell you. You think Marcus Camby would have been driving a Range Rover in ’96 if my big-men coach hadn’t needed a waffle-cone fix? Please. Kelvin Sampson was the same way. Probably the most amazing thing about Mike Krzyzewski at Duke is that he was able to recruit the way he did without even liking ice cream. Or any form of pleasure, for that matter.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “Open wide, John, because I have got a special Forgiveness Sundae just for you.”

Six Months Later: Kentucky’s best-ever recruiting class beats the Bobcats 117-94 in a scrimmage. “I bet Kentucky could beat the Bobcats!” people joke on Twitter.

5. The Chicago Black Sox of 1919 (“We weren’t trying to offend anyone.”)

The Setting: Cooperstown. Klieg lights shine down from the rafters onto a photo wall of old-timey players in baggy uniforms. Heinie Groh. Nap Rucker. The Babe. In front of the montage, several members of the 1919 Black Sox — also in their old-style uniforms, and slightly translucent from the time-travel effect — are shifting in their seats. Oprah is reverse-passive-aggressively not wearing a Cubs cap. “Shoeless” Joe Jackson is wearing shoes, incongruously.

The Apology (A Play in One Act):
HAPPY FELSCH: So … uh … what we want to say is just …

SWEDE RISBERG: If we offended anybody …

CHICK GANDIL: You know, by throwing the World Series and everything …

HAPPY FELSCH: That wasn’t, uh …

LEFTY WILLIAMS: We’re sorry.

HAPPY FELSCH: That wasn’t what we meant.

CHICK GANDIL: Not at all.

EDDIE CICOTTE: Just the opposite.

SWEDE RISBERG: Not that anybody even still remembers …

LEFTY WILLIAMS: It was a long time ago, and …

EDDIE CICOTTE: It’s probably blown over by now …

SWEDE RISBERG: I’m sure it has.

HAPPY FELSCH: But … uh … just in case …

LEFTY WILLIAMS: Sorry about that.

CHICK GANDIL: Really sorry.

SWEDE RISBERG: Wish we hadn’t done that one.

HAPPY FELSCH: What were we thinking?

CHICK GANDIL: Sometimes you just get it wrong.

EDDIE CICOTTE: We got that one wrong, that’s for sure.

LEFTY WILLIAMS: Sorry again.

EDDIE CICOTTE: Me too.

HAPPY FELSCH: Likewise.

“SHOELESS” JOE JACKSON: I love shoes and consistently wore them throughout my playing career.

Oprah’s Verdict: “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say. It. Ain’t. So.”

Six Months Later: The black void of eternity swallows all. Oprah gives every member of the audience a Zappos gift card.

4. Diego Maradona (“I owe you one, England.”)

The Setting: Maradona’s Patagonian mountain retreat. Maradona, whose face is suffused with a kind of tragic dignity, is wearing an eye patch and a rayon bowling jacket that reads “Daddy-O.” In one window, a spectacular mountain vista stretches on and on. Oprah is reserved, respectful of cultural differences but slightly nonplussed by the way the parrot on Maradona’s shoulder keeps croaking Nietzsche quotes.

The Apology: “I handled the ball. It was not God. I have said before that it was God, but in fact it was I, Diego. After a certain point one can only look back on one’s deeds with the sadness that comes from distance. However often I relive the scene in my memory, I cannot reinhabit the body of the man who scored the goal with his hand. I am cut off from him, yet in some way responsible for his actions. Miss Winfrey, does anyone truly comprehend time? I know very little about theology, and yet I confess that my thoughts do wander. I think to myself: If my hand moved to touch the ball into the net … well, who moved my hand? If the referee did not see … well, who averted his eyes? Who made Steve Hodge unable to play a simple clearance, who designed Peter Shilton to be so improbably slow? Can we not say, Miss Winfrey, that the hand of God moves everything, in time? That we are carried away from ourselves by a current we cannot comprehend, toward an end we cannot see? I apologize for whatever part I share in this, to me, impenetrable mystery. Now if we still have a moment I will fetch my acoustic guitar and play ‘Call Me Phoebe,’ a delightful song parody I have written from the perspective of my favorite Friends character. Chocolate sunbeam tangoberry.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “Sometimes the hardest thing is to learn to forgive yourself. The message today is, It’s never too late.”

Six Months Later: Maradona replaces Arsene Wenger as the coach of Arsenal, wins 18 consecutive Premier League championships.

3. Ty Cobb (“I have not always been a gentleman.”)

The Setting: The Cobb family farm in Georgia, where the young Ty learned to play baseball. Also where his mother killed his father with a shotgun in a 1905 infidelity/mistaken-identity mix-up, the event that reportedly precipitated Cobb’s hostility and propensity for violence. Landing the Cobb interview was a major get for Oprah’s new time-travel series, and no expense has been spared on the studio, which is designed to replicate, down to the stuffed mallard over the fireplace, the study where Cobb’s father, Professor W.H. Cobb, wrote his scholarly articles on the Bible and plotted the next year’s crop rotation. Now Ty Cobb, sour-faced and still blurry from the time travel, sits in front of the big bay window, outside which falls a warm summer rain. Oprah’s in the rocking chair opposite, a quilt folded over her knees. She looks warm and satisfied. This is it, she thinks. This is my coup for June. And for the millionth time since her show first aired she imagines the look on Phil Donahue’s face when he learns of her latest triumph.

The Apology: “I do not apologize.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “We’ll be right back.”

Six Months Later: An associate producer tinkers with her CV on Monster.com.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (“I apologize for … what am I apologizing for again?”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. Cristiano’s Ed Hardy x True Religion stonewashed jeans define a complex space in which the cool and the uncool swallow each other’s conceptual underpinnings. His face radiates with a strange, faint shine, like the waterproof membrane of a raincoat. Oprah is wearing a pantsuit. The pantsuit is navy. The mood in the studio is uncertain.

The Apology: “Hello, Oprah. Thank you for having me. I want to say I’m sorry for … well, whatever it is that I have to be sorry for. It’s something, right? I mean, it’s not clear to me, but it definitely seems like I ought to apologize. I work hard, I play well, I’m a pretty responsible person. You don’t see me in a lot of embarrassing nightclub incidents. I like flashy clothes and I date beautiful women, but come on. You wouldn’t, if you were a 27-year-old multimillionaire celebrity? So maybe it kind of seems like I don’t have anything to apologize for. Hahahahaha! I know! It seems funny to me, too! There’s an apology that needs to come out of this mouth, for sure. So for … that thing that makes you feel … that way you feel about me for … those reasons that you have, I am truly … something. Sorry! I’m truly sorry. Oprah, I thank you for this opportunity to speak.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “I think there’s hope for you, Cristiano. But it’s going to take more than words. It’s going to take actions. Vague, undefined actions that you will perform for a long time.”

Six Months Later: Ronaldo scores 57 goals in 52 games. Messi wins his ninth straight Ballon d’Or.

1. Roger Goodell (“Sorry about your brains.”)

The Setting: Oprah’s studio. The commissioner sits with his legs spread wide, doing small preparatory man-sniffs under his boyish mop of straw-colored hair. The crowd is restive, tense. Oprah is reverse-reverse-passive-aggressively wearing a Bears jersey.

The Apology: “I can’t listen to the games anymore.

“I can watch. As rough as it is, the sight of it — all those collisions, all those head-first hits — isn’t what turns my stomach. It’s the sound of it, Oprah. It’s the crunch and the crack and the kthunk that does me in. I hear that, and sure, I know we’ve got it miked up, we’re raising those levels in the truck, giving the people what they want … but I can’t help it, I think about how the damage being done to their bodies, the damage being done to their brains. And I just can’t stand it. I want to escape.

“Because we knew. Sure we did. We knew all along. I mean, it’s not rocket science. You drive a truck full-on into someone’s head, their wires are gonna get crossed, and the only real difference between Joey Porter and a truck is that a truck won’t insult your mom while you’re lying there trying to get your breath back. Of course we knew. We made a pros-and-cons list. The ‘cons’ side read, ‘Damaging the brains of potentially thousands of young men.’ The ‘pros’ side was just a list of Pacific Islands we could buy with our annual revenue. Some of them had such beautiful names, Oprah. Olapu. Say it to yourself. O-la-pu. Two billion, maybe two-two. It’s magical.

“There was one — I’ll never forget this — called Monulahuaho. I’ve never been there, never even seen it. But it just sounds so tranquil. Stress is a problem for everybody these days, you know? I picture a narrow strip of sand, blue waves, jungle mountains, a peach-colored light over everything. You could forget a lot of things in that peach light, Oprah. A lot of mistakes might just disappear. The private plane I fly around in has seats made out of baby swans. Cygnet-skin seats! Can you imagine? It feels like sitting on a cloud, if you could kill and skin a cloud, Oprah. Which you can’t; we’ve tried. That model of the jet never made it off the drawing board. It was a good effort. The boys in R&D earned their bonuses that year for sure. But it can’t be done.

“Still, Oprah. When I think about all the harm this game has caused, and the fact that we still don’t provide health care for players who’ve been retired for more than five years even though we barely understand the long-term consequences that playing football can have for your health … well, gosh. I feel such shame. I just want to apologize to all the fans and to everyone who’s ever played the game. But more than anything, I want to crush the players’ union so that I can finally buy Monulahuaho. Then I’ll slip into one of those cygnet-skin seats, fly off into the sunset, and vanish into that peach light. I want to lie on the beach and evaporate, just go up in smoke. You can make anything disappear with money, Oprah, even the things you had to do to get it. I only did what America wanted. I deserve to be numb, Oprah. I have so much power. I deserve to feel so numb.”

Oprah’s Verdict: “Roger, I’m afraid I’m gonna have to call a personal foul on that one.”

Six Months Later: Everything is the same, only perfect.

Filed Under: Apologies, Celebrities, Oprah, Series, Sports

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Brian Phillips is a staff writer for Grantland.

Archive @ runofplay

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