Thom Brennaman still doesn’t get it: Born on third base and wondering why he’s back at first now
Mediocre broadcaster Thom Brennaman has suffered the purgatory of … not calling Reds games.Image: Getty Images
Thom Brennaman has been a lousy broadcaster for years. Lucky to get a job as a play-by-play man because his dad Marty was one of the best of all time, Thom got his voice and his start from his father, but proved to be as mediocre as so many silver spooners before him.
In the world of broadcast television, that’s enough to keep a job forever. If you sound right, the actual words coming out of your mouth don’t matter too much, unless those words are wildly offensive… which is how Brennaman got canned from his Fox Sports gig last year.
Brennaman’s exit over his on-air homophobic slur remains front of mind, because every time Nicholas Castellanos hits a home run — and he’s hit a career-high 29 this season — it’s a reminder that “Deep drive by Castellanos” is a meme resulting from the slugger going deep as Brennamen mused about being “a man of faith” as part of his attempt to offer an apology that only he knows if he really meant, or was a Hail Mary to save his job.
This week, Brennaman is seeking redemption. Not by showing any personal growth, of course, but by doing an interview with Sports Broadcast Journal and getting a favorable piece headlined “Remorseful Thom Brennaman deserves to work again now; He’s already suffered 14 months of hell.”
“Thom Brennaman uttered an unforgivable word fourteen months ago and he’s suffering the steepest of punishments, the loss of his coveted career,” writes David J. Halberstam, not to be confused with the late Pulitzer winner.
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The steepest of punishments? Brennaman was not sent to the electric chair. He was not imprisoned. He wasn’t even banned from social media platforms. The entire premise of “14 months of hell” here is insulting to every person who has endured actual suffering during the last 18 months of pandemic. People have lost loved ones, gotten sick themselves, been evicted, and lost jobs that were a lot more critical to ensuring their day-to-day survival than broadcasting Cincinnati Reds games and second-rate Sunday afternoon NFL games.
Halberstam refers to “the PC mob, a gang of cancel-culture activists and those who say little for concerns over repercussions” as responsible for Brennaman losing his job. Another way to put it would be that enough viewers felt Brennaman was so repulsive that he should be fired, and a private enterprise made a business decision.
Strange as it may seem for those with famous names, broadcasting professional sports is not a birthright. There are precious few slots available, and offending the audience with bigotry means that it’s next man up. Or woman. But gender representation is a whole other kettle of fish in this broken industry.
“While he suffers in purgatory, Brennaman is keeping busy calling high school football games in Cincinnati,” Halberstam writes.
Wait, is it purgatory or hell?
Brennaman himself has plenty to say, and in so doing, demonstrates why he shouldn’t be back in any kind of prominent position anytime soon. Not that he ever really should’ve in the first place, given that, again, he wasn’t actually good at an extremely coveted job that’s continually rife with extremely qualified candidates who can’t get in the door.
Some of what Brennaman said needs to be deconstructed, because he may come off as sounding reasonable, but it’s clear that he still doesn’t get it.
“If I’m in the grocery or getting a cup of coffee at the local convenient shop, 99% of those I bump into, I’ll hear, ‘We wish you were back, we miss you!’ Let’s say it’s even 90%. Are execs going to make a decision to appease the 10% Wouldn’t you listen to the massive 90%?”
Let’s take this to an extreme. Donald Trump lost the election last year by more than 7 million votes. At no time during his presidency did his approval rating crack 50%. But of all the people Trump meets, how many do you think tell him he was an amazing president, maybe the best ever?
Brennaman’s life isn’t that insulated, but you can also safely assume that he’s living, shopping, and getting coffee in places where he’s most likely to encounter people similar to him, demographically and ideologically. It’s not just online where people live in bubbles of the like-minded, “The Big Sort” has been a trend for decades.
Imagine that you see a famous person at the 7-Eleven. Do you say anything? Are you more likely to approach that person if you like them and support them? How many times in your life have you gone up to a person getting coffee and told them that they’re a bigoted piece of crap who sucked at their job and should never work again? Probably never, because that’s a very weird thing to do when the option of doing absolutely nothing exists. And that’s before you get to the fact that someone going up to Brennaman to tell him what they think of him, one way or the other, would have to recognize someone who looks like a thousand other white Boomers in the Cincinnati area.
If 10% of the people he meets are telling him he sucks, the number of people who still think that Brennaman sucks is way, way, way higher than 10%. It’s not a “massive 90%” that’s going unheard here.
“On the TV pre-game show, when I wasn’t aware that we were on the air but when my mic was hot, I made a homophobic remark. Although it wasn’t on-air, the clip made its way to the internet and went viral from there. There’s no defending the word I used in any form or fashion. I’ve owned up to it every second since. The moment it left my lips, I knew it was over.”
He’s not even owning up to it now! Brennaman, within an answer to one question, hems and haws about whether or not he said a slur on the air. Streaming counts as on the air, and either way, someone in the TV business as long as he’s been should know that any time a microphone is on, you treat it like you’re on the air.
And if Brennaman “knew it was over” from “the moment it left my lips,” why wait so long to apologize? Why not immediately try to make amends, or correct himself in any way? Because it’s bullshit.
Then Halberstam and Brennaman moved on to former Sacramento Kings broadcaster Grant Napear, who was ousted from his job last year over an “all lives matter” tweet.
“If we live in an environment that BLM matters, don’t all lives matter?” Brennaman said. “That makes you a racist? How ludicrous is that?”
For the 69,420,069th time, responding to Black Lives Matter with “all lives matter” is not valid when the entire issue around Black Lives Matter is that Black people regularly get murdered by police officers. Of course all lives matter, and after all the discussion around the issue over the past year and a half since the murder of George Floyd specifically, the only way that someone doesn’t understand that “all lives matter” is not an acceptable rejoinder is ignorance. The question is whether Brennaman is ignorant because he’s a dope, or because he’s a bigot. Either way, “Napear is one of the great guys in our business” is not an argument that he should still be calling Kings games.
And people getting coffee telling Brennaman that he’s a good guy is not an argument that he should be calling Reds games. Or the Cubs games that he said Bob Costas recommended him for. Or anything beyond high school football games for the little bubble of people who are willing to accept a self-serving bigot who’s only sorry that he got caught and continues to hide behind his Christian faith as if it’s some kind of professional qualification.