So regular readers of this blog probably realize that PFT (profootballtalk.com) tends to get on my nerves, yet I cannot stop checking the site. They do a great job of commenting on daily news in the world of the NFL, but along with these comments comes a smugness that they know how everything really is. Pacifist Viking has talked about their discussion of Tiki Barber, etc. But one thing that really annoyed me today was their discussion of Bill Belichick and his public statement that can be found here.
Specifically they get into the semantics of the word "mistake." They make a contention that a "mistake" implies that an action was not consistent with an individual's character. Now I believe I understand where they are coming from. A person could not claim that something like a "bookkeeping error" was a mistake if the person's character shows that they consistently were "fudging" the books in order to make the numbers look better, etc. In other words the creative accountants surrounding the Enron scandal were guilty under the law because it was not a "mistake" but rather it was a reflection of their lack of character in bookkepping. Under this understanding of "mistake" PFT is probably correct to be upset by Belichick's use of the word mistake. In their minds this action is consistent with his lack of character (moral uprightness) when it comes to coaching and competitiveness within the NFL. They are correct in these terms and Belichick could not escape punishment for his actions. But guess what neither him nor Michael Vick (who they also criticize for using the term mistake in his apology) were claiming the word "mistake" in terms of not being culpable for their actions. Neither Vick nor Belichick said "I made a mistake, I shouldn't have to be punished because it was a mistake."
Rather, both Belichick and Vick were admitting a "mistake" in different semantical terms. For them the use of "mistake" referred to "an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc." They were correct to use the term "mistake" in this way. Both of them made an error in action which was caused by poor reasoning or carelessness.
The problem with PFT is that their criticism is based upon a rigid understanding of the term mistake as only having one meaning in all situations. Both Vick and Belichick were not claiming that "mistake" meant they were not guilty because the action was out of character, rather they were both admitting that their reasoning or judgement in performing the action was faulty and that the action was wrong. It was a mistake.
I could go on to deconstruct their statement, "Folks, it wasn't a "mistake." A "mistake" is forgetting to ask the waitress to hold the mayo." Because really in terms of what they later say, that a mistake is an action out of character, they would have to first prove that the person forgetting to ask the waitress to hold the mayo was someone whose character included the quality of never forgetting something. But isn't it true that they are using "mistake" here in a different sense. I think so, but hey maybe I am wrong. Either way I was annoyed by the commentary of PFT.
Underlying all of this commentary by PFT is a position that they hold. They essentially claim that a person cannot be contrite or apologize if the action taken was within their character. Essentially they are claiming that character is a static thing and that outside influences or opinions cannot cause an individual to understand that they were wrong and their actions within their character were wrong. That seems plain absurd to me because I have seen plenty of people change over time and become "better" people after realizing their actions or thoughts were wrong.