"Sorry" probably means more in institutional cases when there's monetary punishment attached. The swim club in Philadelphia that rejected a class of black children recently may well find that they're VERY sorry for having taken that action.
And I suspect the Cambridge Police Department will be doing more than finding its treatment of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr, "deeply regrettable" (or whatever the exact, somber words were). Sometimes "um, sorry" isn't enough—especially when it appears to be insincere, or motivated by something other than true repentance. (Sorry you're about to face the consequences of your actions isn't exactly the same thing as being sorry you engaged in those actions…)
You would think that having escaped the stiff sentence some of his critics believe he deserved for the beatdown he gave Rihanna, Chris Brown might have kept a lower profile and acted a little chastened. After all, the judge let him off with community service—which he allowed the singer to do 2500 miles away from where he pled guilty to one count of felony assault.
But no. Recently our Chris was spotted with a pricey new piece of jewelry—a huge, diamond-encrusted pendant that spells out, on one side, the word OOPS! $300,000 worth of self-indulgence.
That doesn't say "sorry" to me—that says "they want me to be sorry, but I ain't feelin' it." In which case, why apologize? (Kinda gives you new respect for Jim Brown who instead of hiding behind his minister and lawyer, took the Henry Ford route: "Never complain, never explain.")
In addition to commissioning a fake apology in real diamonds (and wouldn't it have meant more to have that money directed to organizations that fight domestic violence, especially when so many organizations' budgets have been slashed?), there's an insincere video apology. You can see it on TMZ.com. (The posted reactions speculate that the apology, such as it was, was an unsubtle grasp at career rehabilitation. We'll see.)
Meanwhile, my brothers, don't be like Chris: If you don't abuse women, you don't need to apologize. If you do, an apology can't make up for the abuse.
And a blatantly insincere apology isn't an apology—it's an insult.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).