From a perception standpoint

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During a game on 11/28/2013 between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin got in the way of a kickoff return by Jacoby Jones, as a result of standing with one foot on the field of play as Jones ran up the sideline. Video of the original incident is here, and an animated gif of the crucial interaction is here.

At Tomlin's weekly press conference a few days later, he issued an elaborate apology, partly for getting in the way of the play, but even more strongly for not taking the ensuing fuss more seriously. His statement is reproduced in full here, but the most linguistically-relevant part is this:

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I think probably my biggest error on Thursday night was not realizing that that play jeopardized the integrity of the game from a perception standpoint.

Tomlin continued:

At no time Thursday night, in the game or after, did I realize that my actions could be perceived potentially as intentional, and that's a mistake on my part. As someone that's in my position who's supposed to preserve the integrity of the game of football, I should've realized the potential for that and acted accordingly. I didn't realize that potential. Really, I was focused on the blunder itself, the embarrassment it produced, and moving my football team past it. That was the number-one guiding influence of my actions. In not recognizing the potential of perception from that standpoint, I also fell short of the duties that come with my position.

This is a bit more subtle than the "I'm sorry that you're offended" non-apology, or even the "I'm sorry that you misunderstood me" variety. Tomlin accepts blame —  for not realizing sooner that people would  consider his actions to be a serious matter. But as usual, a similar approach has also been explored earlier in the comics

Still, "from a perception standpoint" is an adjunct that other public figures may find reason to use in the future: "I made a mistake"… from a perception standpoint.

In fairness to Tomlin, he leads with a more forthright admission of error for the play itself:

My descriptions of my actions on that play are a lot of things: embarrassing, inexcusable, illegal, a blunder being many of the things I used to describe it. I take full responsibility for my actions on that play. I acknowledge that my actions unfortunately became part of the play.



  1. Neal Goldfarb said,

    December 14, 2013 @ 6:12 pm

    If this were Body-Language Log, instead of plain old Language Log, we could have a discussion about drawing inferences about someone's state of mind from his bodily motions and posture.

    We could talk about, say, the apparent nonchalance of Tomlin's stance; that little step to his right—putting him hard up against the sideline— that he took as Jones barreled toward him; that quick glance over his right shoulder; the sprightly and well-controlled hop out of the way just in time to avoid being hit; the continued nonchalance as Tomlin walked away from the sideline, as if nothing unusual had just happened; the sly (not to say shit-eating) grin on Tomlin's face after the tackle.

    Or maybe we could talk about the cognitive processes that enable one to infer what someone else was intending, just from small visual cues like these.

    But this is not in fact Body-Language Log, so I guess we won't be having that discussion.

  2. Neal Goldfarb said,

    December 14, 2013 @ 6:17 pm

    Another point (this one not so off-topic): The quote from Tomlin at the end of the post wasn't a "forthright admission of error" if (as it appears to me) he was trying to interfere with Jones.

  3. Cygil said,

    December 15, 2013 @ 1:02 am

    …"I take full responsibility for my actions on that play. I acknowledge that my actions unfortunately became part of the play."

    Whether fair or not, the adjective that immediately sprung to mind parsing that fauxpology is "Clintonesque." I can't agree with Mr Liberman that it's forthright, and I agree with Neal Goldfarb. "My actions became part of that play" is not the same thing as "my actions influenced or were intended to influence the outcome of that play".

  4. David Evans said,

    December 15, 2013 @ 2:51 am

    From a grammar standpoint, couldn't "from a perception standpoint" relate to "not realizing" instead of to "jeopardized the integrity of the game"? ("I think probably my biggest error on Thursday night was NOT REALIZING FROM A PERCEPTUAL STANDPOINT that that play jeopardized the integrity of the game.") If so, the sentence could be interpreted as a very round-about way of saying, "I think probably my biggest error on Thursday night was NOT PERCEIVING that that play jeopardized the integrity of the game"!

  5. Meg Wilson said,

    December 15, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    OT: The "apology" link led me to the 2005 posting on "as such." Unlike other recent shifts, I simply can't "hear" the new meaning of this one. It just sounds crashingly, disasterously wrong. I am now officially old.

  6. Mr Punch said,

    December 15, 2013 @ 7:58 pm

    Perfectly reasonable from public officials – government ethics codes give a lot of emphasis to "the appearance of" conflict of interest, etc. You can be fired for doing something innocent in itself, if it looks bad. Happens all the time.

  7. Andrew (yet another one) said,

    December 16, 2013 @ 6:45 pm

    For me, the linguistic interest is in the caption on the animated .gif: "Mike Tomlin was standing there on accident, really."

    I cannot remember ever encountering "on accident" before. In Australia, we would say "by accident". What are the international norms here?

  8. Tern said,

    December 17, 2013 @ 1:47 am

    It's 'by accident' in Canada as well. You hear 'on accident' from small children on occasion, but it's not considered correct usage.

  9. Chandra said,

    December 17, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Notpologizing is a fine art.

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