What To Do When You Mess Up

Apparently it’s the season for public scandal.

Politicians, athletes, and media figures seem to be lining up to provide the latest highly visible lapse in personal or professional judgment. Personal indiscretions, performance enhancing drugs, political cover-ups—if not for the tragic consequences, the stream of indignities would be laughable.

It’s like a reality TV competition—How Low Can You Go?

Several days ago a relatively unknown Philadelphia Eagles football player named Riley Cooper joined the parade. A video hit the Internet showing Cooper, a young white man, using the “N” word at a rock concert.

There’s no defense or excuse for Cooper’s behavior. His words were reprehensible. But I’m drawn to the incident by the way Cooper, his coach, and his teammates handled a hurtful, difficult, potentially divisive situation.

I think we can learn from the way this young man dealt with a humiliating mistake.

He owned his behavior. No lies, no excuses, no hiding, and no blaming. He stood up, admitted what he did, and took responsibility for his actions.

He acknowledged the harm he caused. No attempt to minimize or deflect, he accepted responsibility for the impact of his words on teammates, parents, and fans.

“I realize how many people I’ve hurt, how many families I’ve hurt, how many kids I’ve hurt,” Cooper said. “That’s what we talked about, the severity of it, and I completely realize that and I take full responsibility for it.”

He apologized, corporately and individually. Facing his teammates—many of whom are black—man to man must have been difficult. I’m sure some of those conversations were uncomfortable and even angry. But he didn’t hide behind a group apology.

He didn’t demand forgiveness. “I told them, ‘I don’t want you to forgive me because that puts the burden on you,’” Cooper said. “I want it all on me. I told them that and I told them I apologize.”

He realizes there’s no quick fix. “It’s going to be tough. No doubt it’s going to be tough,” Cooper said. “I’m going to live with this every day for the rest of my life.”

He can say all the right things now, but ultimately this incident will be resolved based on how Riley Cooper conducts himself over months and years.

I’m in no position to judge. Personally, I’m glad nobody followed me around with a camera phone while I was in my early 20’s.

We all mess up. Mostly life’s not about the mistakes, but about how we deal with them and what we learn from them. Riley Cooper took some good first steps, but he’s got a long way to go.

Personally, I’m rooting for him.

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Copyright 2008-2013 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:

Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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