Foursquare founder’s apology for wife’s forged marathon bib fails to pass the PR test

April 25, 2014

Add Foursquare Founder Dennis Crowley and his wife, Chelsa, to the list of public figures issuing ineffective public apologies.

The situation

The Crowleys found themselves in the position of needing to make a public apology today, when Boston’s WCVB revealed that Chelsa Crowley ran this year’s Boston Marathon using a forged bib. In reality, the bib number Crowley used belonged to another runner who had qualified for the legendary event by raising thousands of dollars for a multiple sclerosis charity. That runner, Kathy Brown, discovered Crowley’s duplicity when she went looking for official marathon photos of herself and discovered images of another woman wearing her bib number. Brown was able to pinpoint the culprit because Chelsa Crowley wrote her Twitter handle across the counterfeit bib.

The apology

In a comment posted on the WCVB website, Dennis Crowley apologized to Brown and race organizers, saying he and his wife only desired to run this year’s race together in an effort to gain “closure” after being unable to finish last year’s event due to the marathon bombing:

“Yes, using a duplicate number to get Chelsa into the starting corral with me was wrong,” Crowley wrote. “I don’t expect everyone to understand our strong need to run and finish together – but after trying unsuccessfully to get a charity number and trying unsuccessfully to officially transfer a number from an injured runner friend, we did what we could to make sure we could run together in hopes of finishing together.”

Apology analysis

Crowley’s apology demonstrates a rule of thumb we shared in a recent blog post titled How NOT to Make a Public Apology.

The rule: If your apology contains the word “but,” it’s not an apology – it’s an excuse.

Here, Crowley hopes invoking last year’s marathon tragedy will in some way mitigate his wife’s forgery of another runner’s hard-earned bib number. The last phrase in the paragraph above only compounds the damage: “…we did what we could to make sure we could run together in hopes of finishing together.”

“What they did” was cheat.

Apology grade: D.

Apology fix

Instead of offering excuses, the Crowleys would have fared better if they had simply acknowledged their actions were wrong, apologized profusely and assured the public they would never do something like this again. They might also have offered to make a donation to multiple sclerosis and Boston’s One Fund to benefit marathon victims as a tangible sign of their remorse.

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The American public is very forgiving – provided you don’t derail your apology with a “but.”

Read our recent blog post The 5 As of an Effective Public Apology to learn the other key elements of an A+ mea culpa.



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