Sports

Baseball Announcer Thom Brennaman Found a New, Surreal Way to Ruin a Public Apology

Cincinnati Reds television broadcaster Thom Brennaman prior to a game on June 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Fox Sports Ohio play-by-play broadcaster Thom Brennaman revealed himself to be comfortable using homophobic language, torpedoed his career, and delivered what might have been the most somber home run call ever, all in the span of a few hours during Wednesday’s doubleheader between the Cincinnati Reds and Kansas City Royals.

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The slur in question came out of Brennaman’s mouth during the first game of that doubleheader. The announcer, who believed his mic was off, referred to somewhere as one of “the fag capitals of the world.” (It is unclear what place Brennaman was referring to; the Reds didn’t respond to a request for clarification.) After a four-second pause, he then read a promo for the Reds’ pregame show.

As Brennaman’s words spread across Twitter, he instantly became a pariah, and yet, Fox Sports Ohio kept him on the air for the night game, like nothing of note had happened in the Reds’ 4–0 Game 1 loss. In the fifth inning of Game 2, Brennaman acknowledged reality, issuing an apology before his colleague Jim Day took over in the booth. “I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith,” Brennaman said, just as Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos hit a long blast to left field, in the direction of a billboard advertising a “judgment-free zone.”

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What followed was one of the most surreal moments in sports broadcasting history. Brennaman knows that what he’s done is bigger than the game, and he understands that he’s supposed to sound sincere. But when Castellanos lets one rip, he can’t resist doing his job.

I made a comment earlier tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of. If I have hurt anyone out there, I can’t tell you how much I say, from the bottom of my heart, I am so very, very sorry. I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith—as here’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos, it will be a home run, and so that’ll make it a 4–nothing ballgame—I don’t know if I’m going to be putting on this headset again. I don’t know if it’s going to be for the Reds. I don’t know if it’s going to be for my bosses at Fox. I want to apologize for the people who sign my paycheck. For the Reds, for Fox Sports Ohio, for the people I work with, for anybody that I’ve offended here tonight: I can’t begin to tell you how deeply sorry I am. That is not who I am. It never has been. And I’d like to think maybe I could have some people that, that could back that up. I am very, very sorry, and I beg for your forgiveness.

By Thursday, the Reds had suspended Brennaman indefinitely from doing the team’s broadcasts. Fox Sports also said it would remove him from his job calling NFL games for the network this season.

The midapology home run call wasn’t the only off-putting thing about Brennaman’s mea culpa. He delivered those words with the gravitas of a sports broadcaster who knows something has gone terribly wrong; it’s the same voice he’d use for a player who suffered a serious injury. But the announcer’s transparently insincere statement didn’t match his tone.

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Brennaman starts off by saying that he’s a “man of faith,” which has no relevance as to whether he would say something bigoted and homophobic. He then says he wants to apologize to those who employ him and pay him money, then adds, “That is not who I am,” a sentence that is clearly false given that he’d said the slur only a couple of hours before. Then comes the plea for someone else to defend him—a desperate attempt to convince everyone, again, that the guy we’d just heard on the air isn’t the real Thom Brennaman.

The badness of Brennaman’s apology is a bit surprising considering that it’s possible no one in his profession has had more experience making or listening to apologies.

In 2002, Brennaman, who was then calling games for the Arizona Diamondbacks, apologized on air after calling for the D-backs’ Tony Womack to be benched. “For me to suggest that a guy ought to be benched is not my job,” Brennaman said at the time to the Arizona Republic. “It was not only what I said, but the tone I said it in. It was an angry, upset-fan-in-the-stands kind of tone. And for me, I felt I crossed over a line that I shouldn’t be crossing.”

October 2006 was an especially apology-filled month for Brennaman. First, he said he was sorry for making fun of a New York Mets fan with degenerative vision who was wearing a device to help him see the action on the field. (Brennaman’s Fox Sports booth partner Steve Lyons was fired a few days later after he made some kind of joke about Lou Piniella, the Spanish language, and a missing wallet during the American League Championship Series.) Most recently, in April 2019, Reds analyst Chris Welsh suggested that second baseman Ozzie Albies, who had just signed an extension with the Atlanta Braves, didn’t know the difference between $35 million and $85 million. The next day Welsh delivered an on-air apology with Brennaman at his side. “This is a good man right here,” Brennaman said to Welsh afterward. “Well done. Well done. And I know you meant that very much from the heart.”

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This time around, it took a day for Brennaman to catch on to the emptiness of his own apology, or for someone to point it out to him. The announcer had another go at it on Thursday afternoon, directly apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community in a Cincinnati Enquirer opinion column. At the same time, he played naïve about the origins of the slur he’d used.

“I used a word that is both offensive and insulting,” Brennaman wrote, right before a sentence that is extremely hard to believe given that it came from a 56-year-old man and not a baby or an alien. “In the past 24 hours, I have read about its history; I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence and am particularly ashamed that I, someone who makes his living by the use of words, could be so careless and insensitive. It’s a word that should have no place in my vocabulary and I will certainly never utter it again.”

To his credit, Brennaman did not take a break in the middle of this apology to call a drive into deep left field.

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Toward the end of the Enquirer column, Brennaman promised “to start improving my understanding of LGBTQ+ issues and not in a way to simply check a box to keep my job.” That’s the right sentiment, but as of now there’s no reason to believe it’s sincere. Brennaman made it clear enough in his first statement that keeping his job is all he cares about.

Listen to an episode of Slate’s sports podcast Hang Up and Listen below, or subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.


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