You can find no quick truths to a man's contrition. Take Gilbert Arenas, for example. Arenas wrote a column in The Washington Post decrying the stupidity of his brandishing handguns, as if he were Wyatt Earp, in a place where Glocks and .44 Magnums didn't belong.
His essay was a compelling piece of prose, words worthy of a man who knew his behavior was outside the lines.
From his words, he sounds as if he understands his civic failings, though who can be certain. I mean, what Gilbert Arenas wrote might just be another one of those SportsCenter moments that athletes are fond of.
For we've seen apologizes aplenty from high-profile athletes - from men like Mike Tyson, Kobe Bryant, Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Donte Stallworth, Michael Vick, and we all know that, at some point, we will see Tiger Woods producing his camera-ready moment. It will, of course, come with the appropriate tears and the maudlin words penned by Tiger's agent to give humanity to his client's serial infidelity.
But Tiger and Tyson and none of the other athletes gone wild are what interest me this day. Besides, a few of them have already fallen on their swords in hopes of being forgiven. I'm sure some people have forgiven, knowing that nobody's life is absent flaws.
I have long wrestled with the belief that these men sought forgiveness not for the sin itself but because they got caught sinning. Think Tiger would still be screwing any woman who could shake her booty if he hadn't been caught? How about John Edwards, Mark Sanford, Kwame Kilpatrick or any number of other public officials whose behavior proved unseemly?
Now, it's not for me to preach about morality. All I can do is handle my own affairs and hope like hell they measure up to God's standards. What I can do, though, try to pierce a man's words and see if his contrition is real or a product of his unusual circumstance.
In reading Arenas' essay a second time, I reached a conclusion: Arena, aka "Agent Zero," believed every word he wrote. He spoke of how wrong it was for letting guns replace civility in public discord. Arenas assailed the use of handguns for settling matters, regardless of how egregious a situation might be.
As much as I was struck by his words, I believed Arenas because of his actions. He ordered his agent not to spend a minute trying to fight his year-long suspension, a suspension that will cost Arenas millions. He did so at the risk of losing more money if the Wizards, the NBA team he plays for, takes action to void his multimillion-dollar contract.
Arenas did something that is becoming increasingly rare in this age of spin and media consultants. He didn't whine; he didn't play the blame game. He stood tall like a man and confessed his foolishness. He sought no reprieves, asked no one to feel pity for him or to harp about the injustice of a punishment as costly as the one Commissioner David Stern meted.
Instead, Arenas said he was wrong and vowed to keep others from making the same mistake in judgment he did. He pointed to the lesson he learned from his actions, and he promised that his actions won't be for naught. I guess he was calling this a teachable moment for youths, which it surely was.
"While I regret a lot about this incident, letting the kids down is my biggest regret," Arenas wrote. "I love the time I spend with the kids here in the District, and it means a lot to me whenever I can help lift their spirits or inspire them, especially kids who have difficult lives."
Somewhere along the way, I hope Arenas will be forgiven, particularly by the anti-gun lobby that tends to be overly harsh in cases like his. I also hope young basketball fans who worship Gilbert Arenas will see him as even a bigger star than what he was before his suspension.
They should now be cheering Arenas for an altogether different reason: because he stood up and played the role of a man. Too bad, most of the other athletes who have acted the public fool haven't learned that lesson, too.
Follow me on Twitter and Facebook: jbernardh