When Kevin Durant took the stage at Tech Crunch in San Francisco on Tuesday afternoon, he was, if nothing else, sincere. Durant offered up an apology for critical tweets he sent out about his former team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and his former head coach Billy Donovan.
KD has spent the last few days at the center of a completely bizarre controversy involving him supposedly defending himself on social media through the use of "burner" Twitter and Instagram accounts. And while he very easily could have asked the Tech Crunch moderator not to bring it up or refused to talk about it, he provided a lengthy response when he was asked about the situation and went as far as to apologize for sending out a tweet about the Thunder and Donovan. He called it "childish" and "idiotic" and admitted that he went "a little too far."
But KD’s apology seemed to get mixed reactions. On the one hand, some people praised KD for owning up to what he did rather than taking the route that most famous people take and blaming what happened on a social media manager or an intern. But on the other hand, some people used KD’s admission against him and clowned him even harder than they did before for getting himself caught up in such a silly scandal. They also questioned why he didn’t spend more time addressing why he was using a phony social media account in the first place when he brought up the Thunder and Donovan on Twitter.
And with those two trains of thought engaging in a tug of war over the course of the last 24 hours, we couldn’t help but wonder: just how effective was KD’s apology—and could it have been better?
To try and get a clear answer, we sought help from an "apology expert," which, as it turns out, is a real thing. Edwin Battistella has a PhD in linguistics from the City University of New York and is a professor at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. He’s also the author of a 2014 book called Sorry About That: The Language of Public Apology that featured him taking an in-depth look at more than 100 public apologies that have been issued by celebrities and other prominent people over the years.
With all of his experience studying the various high-profile apologies that have been made over time, it’s safe to say Battistella knows a good—and bad—apology when he hears one. So which side of the fence does he think KD’s apology fell on? Let’s ask him.
You just read Kevin Durant’s apology for the first time, which I think is helpful here because you’ll be able to provide your immediate reaction to it. Based on the public apologies you have studied in the past, do you think it was effective?
The things that go into an apology are that you need to say what you did wrong, and then, you need to indicate that you’re sorry for it and give some sense of how you’re going to be different in the future, how you’re going to fix things. I’m not so much seeing that here.
He says he doesn’t regret clapping back at anybody or talking to his fans on Twitter. He kind of narrows the scope of what he’s apologizing for. "I do regret using my former coach’s name and the former organization I played for. That was childish. That was idiotic... I apologize for that." So he’s not really apologizing for the fake Twitter accounts. He’s sort of apologizing for what he said about his former coach and the Oklahoma City team. It’s one of those things where he’s re-framing the problem.
Is that something people will often attempt to do when issuing an apology like this?
This is pretty common. This is common with politicians, in particular. They’ll say they don’t regret their opinions, but they regret the way it came out.
Even though KD didn’t specifically address the fake social media accounts he was apparently using, he did touch on how active he has been on social media in the past and almost seemed to remind people about how it has, for the most part, been a good thing for him and his fans. Was that the right approach to take?
Let me see. He wrote, "It’s a great way to engage with fans. I happened to take it a little too far. That’s what happens when I get in these basketball debates about what I really love, to play basketball." He’s definitely putting a positive spin on it. It looks like the sort of thing where he probably had his public relations people give him a little help with what he said. He also said he was pretty mad at himself and wants to move on and play basketball. So he’s got some of the parts of a good apology in there, and then, there are some things that kind of...
Could have been better? Is there something specific KD could have done to really drive home the apology and make everyone happy with it?
I think what he should have added is that he made a call to his former coach and apologized personally. Those are the kinds of things that will make a big difference. I don’t know if he did that or what that particular relationship is now. But that’s the sort of thing that could make this a strong apology—just the sense that he owned up personally as well as saying, "I want to move on and keep playing. My bad."
Despite you thinking there were some flaws with his apology, do you think KD recovers from all of this pretty quickly?
Unless it turns out he’s got millions of fake accounts or something like that, I think he can put it behind him. [Laughs.] I think this is going to go away quickly because it’s a relatively small thing. It’s not like he was taking steroids or bribes. This may be the sort of thing that doesn’t require a lot more apologizing. He’ll take his lumps and move on.