Did Tiger Woods Ace the Public Apology?

Many public apologies fall short, but in as he does it on the golf course, experts said Tiger Woods drove his apology farther than the rest.

Many officials have admitted wrongdoing in recent years, including singer Chris Brown and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, yet family therapists have not been so impressed by their performances. But some said Woods' statement may be the exception.

VIDEO: Tiger Woods apologizes at a press conference in Florida.Play
Tiger Woods' Press Conference Apology

Woods made his points clear today in his first public event and apology in months since the media uncovered a series of extramarital affairs in November.

"Every one of you has good reason to be critical of me," Woods said early on. "I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior I engaged in.

"The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior," Woods said. "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame."

VIDEO: ESPNs Mike Tirico on Tiger Woods ApologyPlay
Is Tiger Woods' Apology Enough?

Beverly Engel, a marriage and family therapist and author in Texas, gave Woods a positive review based on a transcript, not the live performance.

"I would rank him pretty high," Engel said. "He's making it abundantly clear that she [Woods' wife] didn't do anything. It wasn't marital problems. He's not leaving any opening at all to even consider that she was at fault in any way. That could make her feel a lot better."

But after reviewing many of mea culpas in the news, therapists and psychiatrists questioned whether most of such public declarations are real apologies.

Click Here for a full transcript of Tiger Woods' apology.

A case in point is South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

Sanford disappeared for days on end last spring while his staff thought he was on the Appalachian Trail. But soon the world discovered Sanford had actually been in South America cheating on his wife.

He later held an extended press conference to explain his whereabouts and apologize.

According to therapists, there are key elements to an effective apology and common ways to duck out of really saying you're sorry.

"In real life, an apology goes, 'I did X,'" said Stanton Peele, a social psychologist and attorney based in New Jersey. "No apology by a public figure ever does that."

Therapists Say Not All Apologies Will Make Amends

Instead, Peele said, public "apologies" may express regret, but are often not true apologies, since they violate their first rule by not saying what was done wrong.

Instead, he said, the goal of the statements seems to be to "separate yourself as much as possible from your actions to escape any obligation of acknowledging responsibility."

When Sanford addressed the public after news of his affair broke, he took 1,200 words -- talking about his career, his wife's role in his career, his friends and going camping -- before he got around to addressing what he actually did. He even apologized to the people who live in South Carolina and believe in God before he said what he actually did.

Sanford made the point, "There are moral absolutes, and that God's law indeed is there to protect you from yourself. And so the bottom line is this: I've been unfaithful to my wife. I developed a relationship with a -- which started out as a dear, dear friend from Argentina. It began very innocently, as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual e-mail back and forth, in advice on one's life there and advice here.

"But here recently over this last year it developed into something much more than that. And as a consequence, I hurt her. I hurt you all. I hurt my wife."

Whether the first "her" Sanford hurt is his wife or his mistress remained unclear. In addition, while he did say he was "unfaithful" at least once in the 1,700-word speech, Sanford also insinuated things were out of his control.

Not exactly similar to what Stanton Peel, a social psychologist and attorney based In New Jersey, would call a "real-life" apology.

But unlike Sanford, Woods refused to answer any questions about his affair. In addition, his apology was attended by a small group of what his management team called "friends, colleagues and close associates."

"He might be criticized for controlling the whole situation," said Engel.

If Woods' wife, Elin Nordigren, was watching, Engel guessed the golfer's words could have been helpful.

"One of the major benefits of an apology for the victim is it's a validation," said Engel. "It's a validation that harm was caused. Victims report that ... what they want most from the offender is the validation that, in fact, it even happened."

Following that template, Engel said Woods' apology made no bones about what went wrong.

"I never thought about who I was hurting," said Woods. "Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. ... I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules."

Excusing Away the Apology?

Engel liked much of what she heard.

"I have to say that his [Woods'] apology is pretty good because one of the things that's really important is that you never blame anyone else or even insinuate that anyone else to blame," said Engel.

In contrast, Chris Brown's public apology seemed to waver on the point of responsibility. On one hand, he said, "Ever since the incident, I wanted to publicly express my deepest regret and accept full responsibility." On the other hand, he said, "As many of you know, I grew up in a home where there was domestic violence, and I saw firsthand what uncontrolled rage can do. I have sought and I am continuing to seek help to ensure that what occurred in February can never happen again."

Engel wasn't much of a fan of that approach.

"A lot of people say that I am sorry, but then they go on to excuse it," said Engel. "If you're not taking full responsibility without making excuses, then you shouldn't even bother. That really weakens the apology, and it actually becomes insulting to the person who was offended."

Woods' apology also was unique in the delay. While many politicians and celebrities apologize within the week after news of their wrongdoing surfaces, Woods waited more than three months.

Lynne Tirrell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, who has written several articles on apologies, said timing may show genuine remorse.

"If an apology is going to have an effect -- which in some cases it's not going to do much -- delay is not always a bad thing, and sometimes delay indicates the graveness of the situation," said Tirrell.

Sometimes, Tirrell said, a quick apology may not be seen as meaningful.

Engel agreed that waiting to apologize is not always the worst tactic.

"It's insulting to have done something offensive to someone and then to not acknowledge it," said Engel. "The validation itself is significant and then the expressing regret."

Finding Sorry in an Apology

In recent years, most of the public apologies have come from celebrities and politicians whose misdeeds have been publicly aired. David Vitter, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Chris Brown and former President Bill Clinton are among the many who have had to deliver their apologies to a crowd.

Are Celebrities Waking Up to 'True Apologies'?

But while public statements have grown in number, true apologies may not be on the rise.

"You come out with it because you talk to some public relations person who's told you [that you] need to get out in front of this," said Peele. "They all seem forced and artificial."

Many celebrities, he said, don't seem to express remorse, and he blames it on bloated egos.

"They're incapable, as starts, of acknowledging what they've done wrong," said Peele. "They just don't have the ability to do that."