Updated: Aug 21, 2020
I do not take joy when someone in media or entertainment commits career suicide over an unfortunate choice of words. That said, I realized that Thom Brennaman’s was instant toast not long after #firethom trended on social media Wednesday night.
Coming out of commercial late in the Cincinnati Reds first game of a doubleheader in Kansas City, Brennaman made reference to an unknown locale as “one of the f*g capitals of the world”, apparently to a producer or someone in the Fox Sports Ohio truck. Brennaman immediately realized the gravity of his statement as he stumbled through an ensuing promo.
Midway through the second game, Brennaman made an apology where he acknowledged “I may never put on this headset again” before turning the telecast over. With that, Thom Brennaman’s 33-year career as a MLB broadcaster appears done and FOX Sports has already dropped him from NFL telecasts, where he had been a mainstay since 1994.
As the firestorm erupted on cesspool Twitter, not only was Thom Brennaman burned to the ground, but also father and retired broadcaster Marty Brennaman, with both named in the same breath as controversial former owner Marge Schott.
Personally, I have enjoyed Thom Brennaman’s work, in part because he says what he feels and does not hold back. Calling a Green Bay Packers/New York Giants game last December as snow begun to fall Brennaman mused, “You know New York City, they act llke the world might end with this weather system passing through.”
Got a laugh out of it, although Brennaman likely has New York as a gay capital. Or perhaps the hot mic disaster was directed towards Kansas City or Minneapolis, where the Reds are scheduled to close the truncated 2020 MLB regular season. Or maybe it was Toronto (Joey Votto’s stomping grounds), San Francisco, London or several other places in Europe or elsewhere.
In the aftermath, fellow WLW radio personality and syndicated talk show fixture Bill Cunningham defended Brennaman, noting 'screaming leftests' crying for his banishment after a heartfelt apology. Curt Schilling also chimed in, expecting the cancel culture environment to make an insane overreaction.
Except this one goes a bit beyond politics.
Growing up as an isolated loner introvert, I condemn Brennaman’s actions. There were times in my high school where I was called homophobic slurs in high school hallways. On some occasions I came up swinging and got disciplined. For this reason I back the LGBTQ+ community for pushing back on systemic ridicule that dates back generations.
I also realize the thin safety net those in the professional broadcast media face on a daily basis. Baseball announcers do well over 100 telecasts per year, multiply by the 33 years Brennaman has been in the business and it adds up to thousands of opportunities for disaster in a day an age where slip ups appear on Twitter within minutes.
This did not even mark the first time this week a pro sports announcer landed in trouble. On Monday, Charlotte Hornets radio voice John Focke, a former employee of the Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx, made reference to the Denver Nuggets overtime playoff game on Twitter. Apparently his phone auto-corrected from Nuggets to another N-Word with five of the seven letters in the same place.
Earlier this year NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson found himself out of a job after uttering a slur participating in a virtual simulation race that was live-streamed. In 2019, the four-decade career of Minnesota-based hockey announcer Doug McLeod ended over a 'lynching rope' comment made during a high school tournament game. The list of those done in by a single homophobic or racial remark seem to increase, as hundreds of resumes of aspiring young qualified announcers remain on file and waiting in the wings.
This is the era local announcers live in, virtue signaling and public relations is a significant part of the production. Virtually all MLB organizations (NHL as well) had a 'Pride Night' scheduled upon their list of promotions for the 2020 season.
This directs the issue back to Marty Brennaman, who retired from the Reds broadcast booth following the 2019 season and just this week was named to the Reds Hall of Fame. In an interview that ran Thursday, the elder Brennaman said he felt for his son, but also for those offended.
“An open mic is the biggest enemy you have”, Marty said “The worst feeling in the world is that you say something, and hear it coming back into your headset.”
With many of the same outspoken traits as his son, Marty faced his own controversies as an announcer in a pre-social media world.
In 1988 Marty intensified an on-field situation between manager Pete Rose and umpire Dave Pallone, an incident that landed Rose a 30-day suspension. Brennaman gloated on air as projectiles and a roll of toilet paper was hurled from the stands towards Pallone, who was forced out of MLB following the season. Years later it was learned that Pallone is gay.
Later in 1988, Marty was in a conversation with a director calling a University of Kentucky basketball game. Not knowing he was live, Brennaman quipped “Kentucky fans can kiss my ass.”
In 2008 Marty chastised Chicago Cub fans at Wrigley Field for throwing debris, at this point 20 years after he admired the Cincinnati fans doing the same in the Pallone incident.
At a Marshall University banquet in 2010, the elder Brennaman suggested that the school president ‘must be queer’ for improving the school's softball facilities instead of baseball.
The evidence suggests a history of inappropriate comments both on-air and in public settings. This has apparently has caught up with Thom Brennaman and seals an ugly scar on a family legacy.
And the curse of Marge Schott still looms in Cincinnati.