Maybe Sir John has it right. An apology may indeed be the hardest word, at least a good apology that is. However, could it be a tool to help manage a match? Is it a way to get out of trouble, and save the day? Or is it a way to just sink yourself deeper into trouble with those you are already in trouble with?
We saw from an earlier post that a heartfelt apology offered in a timely fashion can go a long way. A pristine example is that of Jim Joyce and his tearful apology to Armando Galarraga. While having its share of detractors, noting that none of the actors are among them, has earned more respect for the men involved and MLB than ire of folks who witnessed the matter and have eagerly commented. Believe it or not, I think what happened was good for baseball.
Before answering the posed question directly, lets look at some, well, not so pristine examples of apologies.
Remember Tonya Harding? She was accused of (allegedly) conspiring to injure Nancy Kerrigan prior to the Olympics. Once the scheme has unwound to the point of Tonya just about getting caught with the lead pipe in her own hand she stated, “I know I've let you down, but I've also let myself down too. But I still want to represent my country in Lillehammer, Norway next month.”
How about this one. Latrell Sprewell and what I would consider one of the worst apologies ever in history by saying, "I’m sorry for what I did, and if you don’t believe that, I’ll kick your butt". This after he choked his coach PJ Carlesimo after the coach told him to “put some mustard” on a pass during practice.
Finally, and of greatest concern to me personally, was the apology of Tim Donaghy during his July 29th, 2008 sentencing for the gambling scandal that rocked the NBA. During the proceedings, Donaghy stated, "I brought shame on myself, my family, and the profession". Frankly Tim, your profession was not the only one affected.
So onto the answer. Can an apology be used to help mange a match, or get out of a scrape? Well, my answer is the same one that I have given on every law school exam to date, it depends.
An effective apology is not one that is manufactured to try to placate a person who may be upset about something. An apology is something that is offered to express genuine regret about something that a person has done to offend another. It can be rejected, and sometimes is.
Keep in mind that not everything deserves an apology on the pitch, most things don't. A referee is out there to make decisions that inevitably 50% of the people participating will not like. You are going to tick more than a few people off by doing exactly what you are supposed to during a match and during a career. If you go around apologizing anytime you have offended someone, you will have no respect from the players, which at the heart of it all really run the match (hint).
That said if you really blew a call, and it is too late to correct it (Did you check with your AR before signaling for a goal kick? Was that hand ball REALLY outside the penalty area?) apologizing to those who you have affected most may go a long way. A brief conversation running back from a goal kick, or during a stoppage in play (like an injury) to simply say that you think you missed it and you will keep working to do better for the next call.
You may think this is corny but players really respond to hard work and a commitment to getting the next one right. I have experienced this all the way through the MLS level ... and it took me by surprise at first honestly. Just when you thought you were going to get CREAMED verbally by a player, a simple "sorry, I blew that one ... I'll work harder ..." can go a long way.
Like I said earlier, it can't be manufactured or a bunch of BS to get you out of a jam where you really screwed up and were just plain negligent in your duties as an official. No apology covers for careless, negligent, or lazy refereeing. Any attempt to do so will make it worse and you will have the worst day in the park of your life.
I've been there ... it usually gets coupled with arrogance and forgetting who really runs the game ... hint #2, it's the players.
Keep in mind too that players know the difference between a referee that is over their head and trying to hang on, and a referee who is just lazy and does not want to be there. Learning is part of the deal. Evolution is necessary for referees, they grow, they learn, they evolve with experience and time. Players understand and will respond (generally) less harshly in return.
So what of it then, two pages of drivel, what is the result?
Be human with people, and recognize that we all make mistakes sometimes.
They will probably be human back.