I had a few broadcasting classes in college — the most notable of which were taught by the late, great Don Orwin at Somerset Community College.
And later, after settling into print journalism at the Commonwealth Journal, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible radio talent right here in our community, calling local sports.
One of things I learned from the likes of Mr. Orwin, Mike Tarter, Roger Redmon, Paul Wright and Mike Kerr was this: If you have a headset on, assume people can hear you. So don't say anything you do not want going out over the airwaves to your listeners.
Thom Brennaman is a television sportscaster at the highest level. The son of broadcasting legend Marty Brennaman, Thom has called Major League Baseball and NFL football for years at Fox Sports — the past decade or so, he has been the television voice of the Cincinnati Reds.
On Wednesday night, Thom committed a broadcaster's cardinal sin — he said something into that headset that he most definitely did not want going out over the telecast. In this case, it was a vile homophobic slur.
While social media was abuzz, Brennaman finished the first game of the Reds' double-header with the Kansas City Royals, and worked well into the nightcap before he finally issued an on-air apology and then turned play-by-play duties over to Jim Day.
Brennaman's career-jeopardizing slur was both shocking and infuriating. And, quite frankly, his hurried apology — which was interrupted by a Nick Castellanos home run — really missed the mark.
After getting past the initial astonishment that a well-compensated and well-respected professional would come off with such a gaffe, there are two things about the entire ugly episode that really bother me.
No. 1, if you listen to the manner in which Brennaman used the slur, it seems very ... comfortable. It was said in a conversational manner — like it's something that Thom might blurt out over a plate of spaghetti at the dinner table with family and friends.
So when Thom says, "That isn't me" in his apology, I tend not to buy it.
Oh, the guy was upset. He was teary-eyed and pale. But was he mortified that he uttered something that is not acceptable? Or was he physically ill because he knew, at that point, he might've flushed his career down the commode in the blink of an eye?
Which leads me to No. 2: Brennaman's on-air apology was aimed at the people who sign his paychecks. He was sorry he embarrassed Fox Sports Ohio and "his bosses at Fox."
He didn't apologize to the citizens of Kansas City. And, most importantly, he didn't apologize to the LGBTQ community — and it bore the brunt of his slur.
But to be fair, after some reflection, Brennaman penned a letter to the editor published by the Cincinnati Enquirer on Thursday evening. In the more thought-out apology, Brennaman did mention the group he damaged the most: "To the LGBTQ+ community – I am truly and deeply sorry. You should never be denigrated with crude and hateful language. I failed you, and I cannot say enough how sorry I am," Brenneman said.
But at this point, the damage is done.
I commend the Reds for pulling Brennaman from the telecast when they did. And I commend them for issuing their own apology — one that did acknowledge the LGBTQ community — and announcing an indefinite suspension for Brennaman.
I commend Fox Sports for pulling Brennaman from their NFL announcing rotation this fall.
We don't need to see Brennaman on the air for awhile — and this is coming from a guy who grew up with Marty Brennaman and Joe Nuxhall as a huge part of my summer sound tracks. Listening to the Big Red Machine in the 70s was a way of life — like a daily visit with old friends.
Many people feel that way. The name Brennaman invokes admiration and respect in this neck of the woods.
I was thrilled when Thom came home to continue his father's legacy as the voice of the Reds.
But now Thom has sullied that name — sullied his father's legacy — with one senseless remark.
It's unclear whether Thom Brennaman will ever work in the broadcast industry again. Perhaps he should not.
But there is at least a chance he can take this horrific mistake and make some necessary changes in his life.
"I have spoken at length with Billy Bean, vice president and special assistant to the commissioner of baseball and an openly gay man, and Evan Millward, WCPO-TV anchorman, who have been generous with their time and patience to help me understand the impact of my actions and provided me with resources to educate myself and work to become a more informed person," Thom Brennaman said in his letter to the Enquirer. "With their help, I am going to start improving my understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and not in a way to simply check a box to keep my job, but to sincerely have an impact and change. I immediately plan to participate in diversity, equity and inclusion training and have reached out to PFLAG for resources and guidance."
That's more like it.
There is hope for Thom Brennaman yet. It's just a shame it took an unacceptable slur into a hot mic to get him to this point.
JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.