What Serena Williams Can Teach Joe Wilson and Kanye West

Inappropriate, unprofessional, and obnoxious outbursts are everywhere (I try to confine mine to my home).

Surely you have seen the clip of Joe Wilson calling Obama a liar in the middle of his speech before Congress (above) and by now you must have seen Kanye West jump up and take the microphone from Taylor Swift when the 19 year old won her first VMA award to say essentially that Beyonce should have won. And, of course Serena Williams lost her temper and her chance to go to the finals at the US Open.

Here’s the thing — THE APOLOGIES! Dear people, this has nothing to do with law, but an apology has 3 elements:

1. apologize genuinely to the person you harmed,
2. say what you are sorry for, and
3. say what you are going to do to make up for the damage you caused.

Here is Serena’s apology:

I want to amend my press statement of yesterday, and want to make it clear as possible – I want to sincerely apologize FIRST to the lines woman, Kim Clijsters, the USTA, and tennis fans everywhere for my inappropriate outburst. I’m a woman of great pride, faith and integrity, and I admit when I’m wrong.

I need to make it clear to all young people that I handled myself inappropriately and it’s not the way to act — win or lose, good call or bad call in any sport, in any manner.

I like to lead by example. We all learn from experiences both good and bad. I will learn and grow from this, and be a better person as a result.

We don’t know what Joe Wilson said to Rahm Emmanuel and maybe he has to write a note since it is not easy to get the president on the phone but

#1: he did not apologize to the person he harmed (Obama for sure and maybe everyone in Congress).

#2: His statement to the press was, “The Republican Leadership told me to apologize and I did.” My Mommy/boss told me to say sorry does not cut it for sincerity.

#3: And I’d like to make it up to you by (helping pass health care we can all agree on, having you over for dinner, sponsoring some other piece of legislation we CAN agree on if it can’t be health care).

Kanye West’s “apology” still said Beyonce’s video was the best. He (or someone who is vested in preserving his career) has removed it from his website, but luckily TMZ captured it as a screen shot so we can have an example of the lamest apology ever.

Serena got it: She had multiple people to apologize to, she named her bad behavior, and she promised to learn from it and try to be a better example in the future. All 3 elements.

Please people – when you mess up, apologize. And when you apologize, get it right. And teach your children. **thank you, this has been a message from the manners police**

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9 Responses to What Serena Williams Can Teach Joe Wilson and Kanye West

  1. jeffaregularworkinglawyer says:

    Here’s what I didn’t like in Serena’s apology — “I’m a woman of great pride, faith and integrity.” Since when is an apology the right place to extol one’s own virtues? Indeed, one might ask if there is ever a right place for telling the world that you have “great integrity,” but I suppose that boat sailed long ago.

  2. laurabethnielsen says:

    OK, that part is not good, but compared to “the republican leadership told me to apologize” it is awesome. I am not a fan of tennis and don’t really know her (or taylor swift or kanye West at all), I’m just saying . . .

    (before you start — yes, i do not know Obama or Wilson either, but I read about them so I know slightly more. For example, did you know Joe wilson once voted to extend health care to people int eh country illegally? yup, it is true: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/11/joe-wilson-voted-to-provi_n_284034.html

  3. vickywoeste says:

    the politician and the rap star engaged in the artful “non-apology apology” which I will shortly be tracing to Henry Ford’s 1927 “apology” to the Jews. You would like “My Bad”–a book that does nothing but cataloge modern apologies by public figures–as well as Melissa Nobles of MIT who works on the political theory of apology. It’s all in the space between appearing to express regret and not actually doing penance for it. It is often phrased in the conditional: “If anyone was offended *then* I sincerely regret my remarks/nude photo/taped phone message.” Putting the onus on the offended person is the classic dodge of non-apology apologies: you make it the other person’s problem that they took offense, not that you caused offense.

    Your formula, LB, is far too grounded in Judeo-Christian ethics to be relevant to today’s public relations. As Jeff points out, even Serena couldn’t help but engage in substantial chest-thumping as she performed her otherwise exceptional penitential rite. Hers was by far the best of the week’s.

    Did you see that Joe Wilson has been asked, again, to apologize on the floor of the House (which institution he did in fact also offend) and he refuses? Why doesn’t Pelosi censure him?

  4. laurabethnielsen says:

    Why doesn’t Pelosi censor him: because when you have won an argument, you should shut up. The dems won the moment Joe yelled. Now the task is to not waste time or points rubbing his nose in it. Shame is powerful — ask Braithwaite. Hey look, we did make it about law and society after all!

    I like how you worked in the penance part. Very Catholic (big C).

    I will get “my bad” AND how stupid of me not to connect this to the ford apology — that would have been better. you should write that right now.

  5. lbsmom says:

    It’s true that sticks & stones can break my bones, but the rest of that saying is NOT true. Words can & do hurt. Did you see Taylor Swift’s face when Kanye talked? He stole her moment.

    Did you see Obama’s face right after Wilson shouted? Classic cool—his moment to shine courtesy of a dope’s pent up anger. It was better than an apology in some ways.

    Watching Serena’s outburst & the judges’ faces as she confronted them is interesting in this video. She says more than once that she did not threaten to kill the line judge; now that’s a scary thought! Clijsters shows up in the video too, & she appears to be a spectator during the rant & later a gracious winner. She didn’t celebrate the moment when the match ended–no gleeful jumping up & down, falling down, waving to fans, etc.

    If I offended anyone in this post, I apologize because my daughter said I should. Actually, most of the time, I am a kind, loving sort.

  6. vickywoeste says:

    LB –apology is pure Catholic theology, can’t help it.

    Judy: way to invert the mother-daughter power dynamic. Very post modern of you. And I don’t believe you. I’m quite certain that you are a kind, loving sort ALL of the time.

    LB: will write up Ford apology stuff when I finish writing chapter where I finish stuff on Sapiro’s demand for retraction–where he is in effect asking for the apology to be made for the wrongs done to him. It’s less coherent a legal argument than I thought it was the first time I read it 7 years ago.

  7. vickywoeste says:

    the congresstional black leadership decided it was not possible to let this go with a private apology. They think the racial animus behind Wilson’s outburst has to be addressed, and they want the House to stick up for the President. So they’re going to pass the most gentle resolution of censure they can:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/14/AR2009091403567.html

  8. lbsmom says:

    The article calls it a, “resolution of disapproval,” an understatement, but a statement nonetheless.

  9. vickywoeste says:

    And it passed, largely on party lines, but a few crossed each way. Interestingly, Barney Frank voted “present.” http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/blogging-the-house-action-on-wilson/?hp

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