As half of America and all of Oklahoma now knows, this past weekend Austin Buchanan, a Junior at Oklahoma State, prepared for the upcoming game with the Florida State Seminoles by tweeting a picture of himself behind a banner. In a surreal moment longed for by every college fan holding a sign on the big day, ESPN’s College Gameday picked it up and the tweet went viral.
What should have been a highlight of Austin’s college football watching career quickly became a nightmare because his sign co-opted one of the most painful and shame-filled moments of American history with the hashtag #trailoftears.
The hashtag would have been inappropriate anytime, but on the 175th anniversary of the end of the nine year forced relocation of American Indian nations on a path that came to called The Trail of Tears, it was doubly insensitive. The wounds of that brutal chapter in our nations history run very deep. One would hope that college students would be reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” not using the painful memory as gameday banter.
I don’t know Austin. But I sincerely hope that he will not be remembered for his carelessness, but for what he did next. He apologized. In a culture where public “apologies” tend to sound like “I regret if anyone got offended” or “I did this, but many people do worse” or even “this is not my fault, it’s the fault of ____”, Austin gave us a terrific example of how to respond when you have done wrong.
It presents us with an opportunity not to be missed. This apology is the real deal. Without hedging or defensiveness Austin’s apology provides a rich opportunity to deal with the Biblical concepts like:
- personal responsibility – “…my friends and I made a banner…I appeared…I shared…I embarrassed…I failed…”
- accountability – “...thank you for holding me accountable to the higher standard I should maintain…”
- repentance – “I make no defence for such a lapse in judgement…,” multiple examples of turning from and turning to
- consequences – “I have deactivated my Twitter…I pledge that I will invest diligent study…words mean things and statements have consequences…”
- sorrow – “I apologize…I am truly sorry…words cannot fully express my sorrow”
- asking forgiveness – “I hope you can and will forgive me…I hope you, as well, can forgive me…while you certainly don’t owe it to me, I ask your forgiveness…”
On Labor Day, I had brunch with a handful of high school and college students that were anxious to express their opinions and were particularly enthused about the apology. Their consensus was that every English class in America ought to be reading and discussing this apology. I agree that this is a great piece for English class, analyzing a lost form of communication. But Austin’s apology also contextualizes Biblical repentance in a powerful way. This is a gift. Don’t leave yours unopened!
You can read the whole text here.