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Bears guard Kyle Long offers lesson in how to apologize

What he did, he said, ‘‘was absolutely unacceptable.’’ It was ‘‘uncalled for and so far over the line’’ that it not only was embarrassing for him, but it ‘‘reflected poorly on the organization, the city, the offensive line room.’’

Bears guard Kyle Long apologized Tuesday for his actions toward teammate Jalen Dalton last week.
Brian O’Mahoney/For the Sun-Times

When the time comes that Bears guard Kyle Long is done with pro football, some firm should hire him to do major damage control.

Maybe the NFL itself should do it.

I mean, Long is good.

His apology Tuesday for going semi-medieval on Bears rookie teammate Jalen Dalton a week ago — ripping off Dalton’s helmet and trying to batter him with it, then flinging the helmet away like a filthy Asian carp — was a masterpiece of reason, explanation and genuine sincerity.

At least, it sure seemed to be all those things.

And it stopped potential team disruption in its tracks. If you make a mistake — even a big one, such as trying to physically harm someone on your side of the aisle — you apologize, do penance, show remorse and promise to change.

We’re human. We screw up. What else can we do to make amends?

Long was suspended from the Bears’ preseason road game Friday against the Giants as punishment. And he apparently has apologized privately to Dalton, Bears coaches and his teammates in general.

Then came the remorse.

What he did, he said, ‘‘was absolutely unacceptable’’ as a ‘‘human being’’ and ‘‘a teammate.’’ It was ‘‘uncalled for and so far over the line’’ that it not only was embarrassing for him, but it ‘‘reflected poorly on the organization, the city, the offensive line room.’’

And Long is smart enough to know that just mouthing words of contrition doesn’t mean much in this era of the phony ‘‘if anyone was offended’’ pseudo-apologies cranked out by movie stars and politicians.

‘‘This is a league about action; it’s not a league about talking about it,’’ he said. ‘‘The thing I need to continue to do is go out on a day-to-day basis and try to prove to the men in this locker room that don’t know me very well and who have some questions about my character and just try to move forward and prove to them the man I am.’’

He said all this at the Walter Payton Practice Center, after the loudspeakers blaring old rap music (to simulate crowd noise) had been turned off, the footballs had been collected and most of his teammates had filed out of the building.

Long, 30, is an imposing presence with his 6-6, 335-pound frame and shaved head. And as the second-longest-tenured Bear with three Pro Bowls to his credit, he is a leader.

He is affable and well-spoken off the field. But his anger needle can zoom past 10 in the midst of football combat. Back when he was a rookie, in a game against the Rams — with his dad, Howie, in attendance and his older brother, Chris, playing on the other side — he tried to kick a foe. He was pulled away by Chris.

After the game, his dad, a Hall of Fame defensive tackle, came downstairs into the tunnel at Soldier Field, and the three family members huddled. Three huge men, and the humbled Kyle was chastened by the other two — especially by his dad.

But the changing part is the hard part. The fire and anger that work when harnessed and make Long a great gift to the Bears are the same things that can blow the furnace to bits.

This time, Long said the regret was ‘‘immediate.’’ He added: ‘‘I cost myself a lot of personal equity. People don’t like to see that. It does not feel good to be the one responsible for it.’’

The irony here is that football is violent by definition. And people do like to see men brutally maul each other. Just check out the slobbering fervor at mixed-martial-arts events.

But there must be something controllable to football or it’s not a sport; it’s mayhem.

This is the thin line Long and his brethren always must tread. Had he hit Dalton squarely in the face with that helmet, Long would have been looking at something a lot worse than a mere suspension.

‘‘As a rule of thumb, if you’re going to use another piece of equipment, don’t do that,’’ he said. ‘‘I mean, honestly, somebody could get hurt. That’s why I’m saying it’s unfortunate. Can’t happen, unacceptable. Have to be able to channel that between the whistles.’’

The Bears are looking forward to a huge season. The defense is loaded. The offense is building. And Long’s return from many injuries is a key part of that offense.

He promises to lead by example.

‘‘That’s what I intend to do,’’ he said.

Do it.