An apology has a period at the end of the sentence. Rush Limbaugh made a lot of mistakes over the past week. His second biggest mistake was that he forgot the period. Apologies are funny things. If you don’t do it right, it just doesn’t count. Ask anyone who has ever been married or in a relationship. As a guy, I take it for granted that I’m usually wrong. It’s just the way it is. I have two choices. I can either admit it now, or I’ll admit it later. And it’s always more painful later.

When Rush Limbaugh came out last week and described Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute” she, and the rest of America, was expecting an apology.

On Saturday March 3rd, Rush issued a written statement:

“For over 20 years, I have illustrated the absurd with absurdity, three hours a day, five days a week. In this instance, I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke.” And later Rush concluded, “[m]y choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices.”

Rush forgot the period. He apologized for his choice of words, but kept right on talking, trying and ultimately failing to explain away his remarks. By saying “[m]y choice of words was not the best,” Rush missed the perfect opportunity to say: “My choice of words was hurtful and wrong. I’m sorry.” Rush lost the chance to personally and publicly recognize the emotional impact of his powerful voice. By concentrating on those two words, Rush also failed to take responsibility for the other insensitive comments he made regarding Sandra Fluke’s sex life.

A crucial element in any successful apology is to recognize the pain or hurt your actions cause another. It is from this personal connection that an apology can transform words that hurt into words that heal.

Shortly after the firestorm that erupted in 2007 when shock-jock Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” Imus issued a straightforward, unequivocal apology.

“I want to take a moment to apologize for an insensitive and ill-conceived remark we made the other morning regarding the Rutgers women’s basketball team, which lost to Tennessee in the NCAA championship game on Tuesday. It was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid, and we are sorry.”

Imus did more than just say he was sorry. Imus expressed sincere remorse and contrition. After he was ultimately fired and his show cancelled, Imus followed through on a prearranged meeting with the Rutgers coach and basketball team to apologize in person. For cynics who might claim Imus was simply trying to salvage his career and reputation, it is worth noting that when he went to the New Jersey Governor’s mansion to meet the coach and her team, Imus wasn’t standing at a podium or behind a microphone. His apology wasn’t delivered at a media conference or via press release. It was unscripted and there were no lawyers or cameras. It was personal and private. And it was accepted.

Apologies are hard. Sometimes pride gets in the way. You often get one chance to say “I’m sorry.” Rush got three and struck out swinging. He kept on talking, explaining, trying to defend himself and he looked weaker each time he opened his mouth. Rush just needed to say “I’m sorry.” End of sentence.

When you’re making an apology, don’t forget the period.