Urban Outfitters has issued an apology for their sale of a vintage Kent State University sweater, which features what appears to be bloodstained fabric — a seemingly macabre reference to the 1970 Kent State Massacre.
Here’s an excerpt from that apology: “Urban Outfitters sincerely apologizes for any offense our Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt may have caused. It was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such. … Again, we deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively and we have removed it immediately from our website to avoid further upset.”
We take serious issue with this apology.
It is hard to believe — considering that products are tested and vetted before going on sale — that Urban Outfitters never had inkling that the product could be offensive.
But even if we assume that Urban Outfitters legitimately never foresaw that their product could be seen as an insensitive reference to the Kent State Massacre, their statement is still inaccurate.
We’d like to point out that Urban Outfitters failed to take direct responsibility for their offense in their so-called apology. Look closely at the language of their statement. Urban Outfitters is not sorry that the sale of their product was insensitive, but that the “item was perceived negatively.”
Urban Outfitters has effectively blamed the public for perceiving their product to be insulting. Their apology is akin to saying something like this: we are sorry that the public is upset with us.
An apology should be an admission of fault, not a well-crafted political statement that is issued merely to counter negative press. And an apology certainly shouldn’t allocate blame to others.
It must be understood, of course, that companies must step lightly when apologizing. Any lawyer, in any field of law, will tell their client to never admit fault when there is a chance of litigation coming against them.
Though it seems unlikely that any such lawsuit will come against Urban Outfitters, with freedom of speech more or less standing in their favor, caution is simply the way of the modern world — especially concerning sizable chains.
This being said, the method they chose for their apology, one where they deftly dodged any claim of guilt while simultaneously trying to garner forgiveness, is almost worse than saying nothing. It practically drips insincerity, and it only expresses that they are sorry they screwed up — assuming this wasn’t some clandestine marketing ploy.
This also reflects a tendency of so many other corporations to express their palpable remorse without actually saying anything worthwhile or attempting to make amends. Forgiveness for mistakes — whether they are for destroying the economy, dumping gallons of oil into the coast or simply for acting in poor taste — must be earned.
To simply express your sorrow at whatever mistake you made through some faceless, nameless release — that was likely carefully crafted by the hands of a small band of press secretaries who were tangentially involved — is insulting.
We therefore reject Urban Outfitters “apology” because it is simply not an apology; it fails to accept an error or fault, and its sincerity is questionable.
It’d be better labeled as “press release,” “media statement,” or “positive spin” — but certainly not as “apology.”