The Apologies of ’09

“I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.”

And so goes the latest regrets in a year full of “transgressions,” as Tiger Woods calls them. The golfer’s pre-dawn crash following Thanksgiving unleashed searching speculations that roared into a full-blown, and possibly overblown, scandal. His oblique mea culpa came with a defense: “Personal sins should not require press releases and problems within a family shouldn’t have to mean public confessions.”

That may be true for Woods, but apologies have become part of the publicity machine, even as celebrities keep upping their sins. The not-so-distant lessons of paternal rants (Alec Baldwin), drunken racist slurs (Mel Gibson), and photographed downfalls (Lindsay Lohan) don’t seem to stick with the rich and famous, even in a blink-and-you-can-find-evidence-online era.

Condemning the rich and famous for straying from the public persona may be a ruthless spectator sport, but the urge to forgive the penitent also runs deep. In 2009, the crimes and concessions kept coming, from the relatively mild to the straight-out bizarre. Below, in chronological order, the apologists which drew lots of Web attention in 2009.

Michael Phelps. One moment, you’re a record-breaking Olympian manfish. The next, you’re a fallible fellow caught in a misdemeanor. His Feb. 2 apology came swiftly after a British newspaper posted party pics of Phelps with a cannabis pipe. A South Carolina sheriff seemed out to get him, but the gold medalist got away with a three-month ban and losing a Kellogg deal.

Christian Bale. Foul-mouthed rants seemed so 2007, but the actor cussed out a director of photography on the “Terminator Salvation” set for ruining his concentration. The tape leaked Feb. 2, which inspired a week of remixes and parodies. Bale manned up the old-fashioned way: by calling into the radio station that played snippets all week. As to who owes apologies for the movie’s lukewarm reception—that’s still unclear.

Rupert Murdoch. The Post’s published apology following its infamous Feb. 18 chimp cartoon (meant to tie together headlines about a chimpanzee attack and the Obama stimulus package) didn’t appease many. Chairman Murdoch gave it a go, and got better results.

Michael Steele. In the March scramble for the title of de facto lead of the Republican party, the RNC chairman agreed that Rush Limbaugh was “incendiary…and ugly.” That didn’t sit well with the radio host, and within two days Steele clarified his “inarticulate” comments.

Mark Sanford. How the South Carolina governor’s tale of infidelity unfolded over Father’s Day Weekend was odd, and so was the tearful and meandering press conference on June 24. Once he started, he couldn’t stop talking about his “soul mate” and “crossing the line.” The 2012 GOP hopeful may still face ethical charges. His estranged wife? Book deal.

Chris Brown. The singing/acting prodigy became a villain in a domestic-violence dispute with celebrity girlfriend, Rihanna, on Grammy night (Feb. 8). Brown’s posted apology on July 20 received mixed reviews, and the incident inspired dueling albums. Brown—sentenced to a five-year probation—plans to tell all in a Dec. 11 “20/20″ interview. For her part, Rihanna has rebounded.

Kanye West. Slamming a president is one thing, but trashing an ingenue’s first VMA Awards moment is another. The hip-hop artist got booted after he interrupted Taylor Swift’s Best Female Video win on Sept. 13. His chain of apologies began on his blog (twice), continued on  Jay Leno, and concluded with a direct phone call.

David Letterman. The “Late Night” host had to issue multiple mea culpas: The first was for a poor joke directed at the daughter of then-Alaska governor Sarah Palin. The whopper came in the fall, when he ‘fessed up to workplace affairs after an alleged blackmail scheme. The Oct. 5 apology came four days later, reportedly at some urging.

Steve Phillips. An affair with an obsessed a 22-year-old coworker, a divorce filing from his wife of 19 years, and an October firing: No wonder the only thing left for the ESPN baseball analyst, 46, was to be “deeply sorry” on Oct. 21 and hide away in rehab for sex addiction until the next act.