Thom Brennaman’s broadcasting career is toast. An ill-chosen word, inexplicably uttered, will spell finis to his long connection with the Cincinnati Reds, a sad denouement but appropriate payback for a terrible lapse.
Seemingly out of nowhere Wednesday night as the Reds played the Kansas City Royals, Brennaman’s mouth rolled off the rails with an insulting, inexcusable insult to the LGBTQ community.
Cincinnati was involved in a doubleheader against Kansas City following a forced vacation from Major League play. The coronavirus cost the team a weekend series versus the Pittsburgh Pirates and a one-day delay of a KC series. The Reds and Royals were playing two seven-inning games.
Brennaman, 56, a team radio broadcaster also employed by Fox Sports Ohio who has broadcast Major League Baseball for 33 years, suddenly blurted out the phrase "One of the f*g capitals of the world" emerging from a commercial intermission.
Nobody knew what Brennaman was talking about, or why, but he did not complete the night in the booth and was promptly suspended by the team for future games.
The use of the homophobic slur was apropos of nothing and yet so costly in hurting the feelings of those who are gay, bisexual, transgender or lesbian, people who have friends or relatives among them, or simply right-thinking people who believe in equality for all.
There was little delay in reaction to Brennaman’s utterance. He was off the air in what seemed like a nanosecond, and one of his comments seemed to acknowledge an awareness this might have been the last time those listeners heard him on a Reds broadcast.
The Reds and Brennaman issued tag-team apologies expressing remorse at what came out of Brennaman’s mouth. As a team, the Reds said the "organization is devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark." They could not back-pedal from Brennaman, a longtime, devoted associate whose broadcaster father Marty has just been selected for the team’s Hall of Fame.
Steinlight Media, a public relations organization, Thursday released comments attributed to Brennaman: "I would like to sincerely apologize for the inappropriate comments I made during last night’s telecast. I made a terrible mistake. To the LGBTQ community and all people I have hurt or offended, from the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry. I respectfully ask for your grace and forgiveness."
That was his second apology, but sometimes, words can’t be walked back, especially if they are on tape, and inevitably provide doom.
The man has spoken millions of words on the air without a mistake of this magnitude, but the world has a no-tolerance policy for stereotyping slurs, and penalties are harsh.
Apologies must be made but cannot solely rescue such situations. A couple of years ago, a man representing a community association at a rodeo event disgustingly used a slur about African-Americans. Unlike Brennaman’s on-air insult, this took place in a private conversation.
The individual failed to apologize, but there were several witnesses, and the man was banned for life from the sporting venue he had previously frequented.
Defenders, anonymous writers, noted what the man said was not such a big deal because "we all have sat around in a bar casually using that word." Not me. Not my friends. I was appalled at that thinking, my response being, "Who raised you?"
In Brennaman’s case, he said he was sorry from the bottom of his heart, but what those on the hearing end will always wonder is if such nasty thoughts had long lurked in the bottom of his heart waiting for release.
There is no escape for Brennaman, whatever he meant. Speaking into a microphone, with words amplified for 50,000 watts, or now, across the entire country, carries responsibility.
Over the decades, Brennaman inevitably mangled the pronunciation of player names, delivered statistical errors. Those are like typographical mistakes in newspapers. The volume of words is large, and people are human. Stuff happens.
It is not the same as when an extremist label is thrown out. The public takes it personally.