Shortly after England was thrashed by Uruguay here in Brazil, the Brit tabloids ran with a series of photos of Wayne Rooney's four-year-old son, Kai, crying in the stands.
"Don't cry, Kai," said The Sun.
The Rooneys are (understandably) not so happy when the media report on young Wayne's erotic escapades. They're happy when they report on Colleen's fashion ventures as if they're a real business.
This was a chance for the hysterics among media watchers to decry the photographic abuse of a child. Since the Rooneys have used both their children as branding vehicles their entire lives, it's hard to feel much sympathy.
While the world whined for them, the Rooneys had the good sense to keep quiet. They are blooded enough in the tabloid knife wars to understand that any keening at this point will haunt them later.
Instead, they went looking for a smarter way to channel a sudden wellspring of sympathy. On Saturday, Rooney became the latest athlete to buy in to the phony apology trend.
"Absolutely devastated to be out of the World Cup," Rooney posted to his Facebook page. "Sorry to all the fans that travelled and at home that we haven't done better … gutted!"
At the very least, the grammar suggests Rooney wrote it himself.
You'd have to go back a long way to find the genesis of the sports apology. One presumes that, at the beginning, it was honestly meant. Perhaps even a bit shocking. These days, it's banal white noise. It's always been pointless.
Actually, it's worse than that. Apologizing for a sports result is anti-sport.
The entire point of competition is risking loss as much as it is chasing victory. In the real world, the former is far more instructive than the latter. We understand losers better than winners. Very few of us are world-beaters in life.
Apologizing for losing presupposes some sort of moral lapse. It's also profoundly solipsistic. When you are beaten, you don't feel bad for the people who watched you fail. You feel bad for yourself. Viewed from that perspective, apologizing is a ploy to elicit sympathy.
Unless you threw the game, no 'Sorry' is required.
It would be bad enough if he meant it. But these sorts of public handwringings have now become expected.
I'm sure Rooney's very sorry England lost – he's now headed to that special oblivion reserved for generational talents who trip off the world stage. In this one way at least, he is like David Beckham.
I don't believe Rooney cares at all about the travelling support or the fans back home. Not in any specific way. Every athlete I've ever known enjoys the public in an abstract sense, as that great herd in the stands who know never to step into the lines of play.
They're deeply suspicious of individual people out in the real world. People always want things from them – time, attention or something more sinister.
However, the cannier ones understand that this is all a great PR game. Say the right things, get the right sponsors.
So Rooney gets on Facebook in the morning – doubtless prompted by one of his advisors – and gets ahead of the apology game. This will help mitigate an inevitable autopsy on his international career. It's harder to kick a guy when he's already down on his knees. It's frankly brilliant strategy, and I'd suggest that England will now skip that part of it – 'Rooney was awful' – and move straight on to 'The Future is Bright.'
In the end, apologizing for failing may be the most successful thing Rooney's managed here.