It was sent to me by my co-chair in apologology, Nell Minow, who also keeps a sharp eye out for such things.
It's worth noting that the apologist in question is not a public figure. Perhaps that's why making such an open and heartfelt statement of apology wasn't problematic for him, not having a public persona to defend. But I've seen some very fine apologies from public figures, so at least we know it can be done.
In this case, the background is that a college student participated in rolling out a big banner on ESPN's football GameDay. and of all the participants, he was the one who could be seen clearly. The banner was intended to be in support of his college, Oklahoma State University, and trashed their opponents that week, the Florida State Seminoles. Unfortunately, the banner used a phrase that has powerful meaning to Native Americans, "Trail of Tears." Not only was it (and he) on national television, but the young posted a photo of it on his Twitter account. The result that he took a huge amount of public scorn.
What he did though was step up and apologize. Something I would think is unexpected for a college student of any era. And it didn't toss off an "If I offended anyone..." -- it was an apology. He deserves an A+.
This is how you apologize. Public figures take note.
"My name is Austin Buchanan. I am a junior at Oklahoma State University, having transferred last spring. Today was my first football game as an OSU Cowboy, so I am obviously new to OSU's game-day traditions. In my zeal to support the OSU Cowboys in their season opener against the Florida State Seminoles in Dallas today, my friends and I made a banner. I appeared in a picture with that banner, which I shared via my Twitter account. Included on our banner was a hashtag insensitively referencing the Trail of Tears. The Twitter post and picture were retweeted and shared by many, eventually going viral.
Though we did not set out to hurt or offend anyone when we made our banner, I see that it did just that. Referencing the Trail of Tears in such a flippant and disrespectful manner was insensitive and wrong, and I make no defense for our having had such a lapse in judgment. I apologize for our mistake. I am truly sorry.
To all Native Americans: I hope you can and will forgive me for diminishing a part of your history that should never be made light of. I pledge that I will invest diligent study reacquainting myself with the horrors of Trail of Tears so I don't repeat the mistake I made today.
To the entire OSU family of administrators, students, student athletes, alumni, and fans: I embarrassed us today. I am sorry, and I hope you, as well, can forgive me. I love OSU. I want to contribute to, rather than take from, OSU's positive image in the world. Today I failed in that effort. I promise to do better in the future. While I can't promise I won't make more mistakes, I commit to learn from them, hopefully becoming a better person in the process.
Further, in the aftermath of today's incident, the content of some of my social media accounts was called into question for various reasons. That is as it should be. As I look back on things I have shared online, I realize I've said hurtful, insensitive, and mean things that do not reflect the young man I want to be. I have deactivated my Twitter account so that I can give serious thought to how I can use all forms of communication more appropriately and positively in the future.
I hope today's mistake on my part serves as a reminder to all of us to put more thought into what we say, do, and share via social media. Words mean things, and statements have consequences. I have seen that very clearly today. To all who share part of themselves with the world via social media, please look to me as an example and a reminder that words can never be un-said and that what we share online can never, ever go away—though we might gladly give all we have to make it so.
Lastly, to the many who have attempted to contact me in many various ways. Thank you for holding me accountable to the higher standard I should maintain as a responsible young man. I have heard you, and I will work hard to make sure that I do not repeat these kinds of mistakes.
Words cannot fully express my sorrow and shame. While you certainly don't owe it to me, I ask for your forgiveness."
A photo of the banner was posted on Twitter where response was overwhelmingly negative. OSU tweeted in response: "OSU does not condone the insensitive sign shown at today's GameDay event and have requested that it be removed."
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker said, "It's particularly disappointing this unfortunate display happened the same weekend as Cherokee National Holiday, when we celebrate our resilience and ability to adapt and survive unimaginable circumstances. For months, we've also commemorated the 175th anniversary of the conclusion of the Trail of Tears. Since these students clearly don't understand the gravity of these events, this should be viewed as a teaching moment for these young people. We wish them well and hope they seek a more enlightened path."