I love watching the Tour de France.  Unfortunately, the event also serves as a reminder to me of the oft-felt disappointment when great athletes get caught using performance enhancing drugs. Although anti-doping efforts have improved, history has taught us that there will continue to be athletes that attempt to cheat the system with performance enhancing drugs. For the next athlete that gets caught, I invite you to take some time to analyze the way in which they choose to apologize for their actions, if at all.

Mechanics of an Effective Apology

Much has been written about the topic of effective apologies. In a nut shell, the mechanics of an effective apology contains three parts; an acknowledgement of the wrong and who was affected by it, an genuine apology, and then an offer of reparation. For now, I’m only going to look at the first part, the acknowledgement.

Apologies for Performance Enhancing Drugs Fall Short on Acknowledgement

To have an effective acknowledgement, the athlete needs to fully acknowledge their wrongdoing and acknowledge those that were hurt by their actions. Sounds simple, right? In reality, athletes (and the rest of us) mess this part up quite a bit. Common acknowledgement mistakes can include the following:

No Acknowledgement

Some athletes might vehemently deny doping accusations and/or test results, even if they are caught red handed. This usually leads to a complete loss of credibility, especially if they are later found to be guilty or the evidence of their doping was already quite severe. See Lance Armstrong’s many denials for examples of this:

Partial Acknowledgement

This is when an athlete won’t fully admit to the what they’ve done. For example, they might state, “I only did it once” when evidence overwhelmingly shows they used performance enhancing drugs multiple times.

Acknowledgement of Use + Excuse

Athletes will try to justify their behavior by making statements like: “I was going through a hard time in my life,” and “I only used it to get back in shape after injuries,” or “everyone else does it, so how am I supposed to compete?”

Omission of Stakeholder Groups

Often athletes will fail to acknowledge all of the stakeholders who were negatively impacted by their decision, such as fans, competitors, team members, sponsors, family, and friends.  Remember, failing to acknowledge a stakeholder group effectively omits them from the apology.

A Good Doping Apology?

So, what would a good acknowledgement statement look like for an athlete apologizing for performance enhancing drugs? Every situation is different, but perhaps a decent one would say something like this:

“I take full responsibility for what I did and make no excuses for my actions. What I did was against the rules, it was unfair, and it cheated my competitors, sponsors, and (insert other stakeholders). I let down fans, supporters, friends, family, and countless others that spent their precious time and money to encourage me and watch me compete. I also let down my team and ultimately disgraced the sport that I love.”

Do you want to analyze an acknowledgement statement?  Have a listen to this Marion Jones apology.  Did she succeed in acknowledging all of the stakeholders that her decisions impacted? If not, who did she leave out?