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Mike Rice and Mark Sanford: My Kid's New Heroes

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Last night when I arrived home and flipped on the news, I was shocked by what I saw. Besides the nuclear threats from North Korea, which completely freak me out, there was Mark Rice, the basketball coach at Rutgers, standing outside his pretty white house, apologizing—profusely. While his wife and kids hunkered down inside, he stood on his front lawn, leaned into an arsenal of microphones, and told the world he screwed up—completely, totally, and unequivocally. He did not try to make excuses, probably because there are none. “I was wrong, “ he said. “I want to tell everybody who believed in me that I’m deeply sorry.”

Choking back tears as he stood on the asphalt outside what looks like a picture-perfect Norman Rockwell-style home, he talked about his embarrassment and regret at letting down his players, the university he represented for so long, the fans, but above all, his family. As he described it, his kids were “huddled” inside their house because their father was an embarrassment to them. Ouch. The man looked mortified, but not so much for himself as for his kids, the people whose opinion I am sure most matter to him. Letting ourselves down is one thing. Letting our kids down is an entirely different experience. If you’ve never apologized to your child for something, allow me to be the first to tell you it is a humbling experience.

Plus: What We Can Learn from the Abusive Former Rutgers Coach

I am no saint. No one is. I have never hurled basketballs at kids, but if I dig deep into the recesses of my mind and heart, there are times when I have lost my cool, when I have done or said things that I deeply regret. But even though none of my actions bear resemblance to Rice’s, I realize that we are all different. We learn no one is perfect at around the same time we learn our ABCs. Yet so few us grow up to be big enough to admit that.

Coincidentally, the offending Rice video entered mainstream consciousness on the same week that former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford won the Republican congressional primary in his home state. This is the guy who made “hiking the Appalachian trail” a euphemism for “I’m having an affair” less than four years ago. Rather than hide from his mistake, Sanford also came clean almost immediately to admit his lack of judgment. In his first political TV ad since, he spoke about how no one goes through life without mistakes, and that even the most colossal screw-ups can teach us something about grace and second chances, strengthening us as human beings. It must have worked because scores of his constituents took to the polls this week to vote for him.

I do not condone extramarital sex nor the physical abuse of anyone, especially kids, but I do believe in redemption—and forgiveness. If I didn’t, who knows where I would be, and I’m just not ready to teach my 7-year-old that apologies don’t mean something anymore. In a world where everyone jumps at the chance to hog the credit for the latest success story, I found it refreshing to see grown men own up to their mistakes this week. I don’t know what will come of Mike Rice or Mark Sanford after the media frenzy subsides, but when my son returns home from his spring break trip with his dad, I am going to show him Rice’s second video, the one where a man takes responsibility for his actions, apologizes and hopefully, begins to rebuild himself.

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