MIC CHECK

Houston broadcast icons sound off on grave media misstep

Image via: Fox Sports/Screenshot

Last week, one small, three-letter word may have ended Cincinnati Reds and NFL broadcaster Thom Brennaman's remarkably successful career.

Brennaman, believing his microphone was turned off in the seventh inning of the first game of a doubleheader between the Reds and Kansas City Royals, used a homophobic slur to describe a city. We don't know, and it doesn't matter, which city he was talking about. The comment was heard live and people instantly condemned Brennaman on social media.

Brennanman knew immediately that his slur went out over the air, but didn't get around to apologizing until the fifth inning of the second game. And that's when Brennaman made a bad situation much, much worse.

He began, "I made a comment earlier tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of."

No, you aren't guessing it was heard over the air, You know it did.

"If I have hurt anyone out there, I can't tell you how much I say from the bottom of my heart, I am very, very sorry."

No, it's not "if." You did. The word "if" doesn't belong in an apology.

And in the middle of his apology, he stopped to announce that a Cincinnati player hit a home run to give the Reds a four-run lead. He concluded, "I don't know if I'm going to be putting on this headset again."

That part he got right. No one knows where Brennaman goes from here. Can he recover his career? Possibly. We live in a country of forgiveness. In 1972, Jane Fonda visited North Vietnam and posed on an anti-aircraft gun pointed at U.S. military planes. She came back to the U.S., put out exercise videos and won an Academy Award. For many, especially in Hollywood and workout gyms, "Hanoi Jane" became America's sweetheart. Beatle John Lennon once said, "We're more popular than Jesus." In the '60s, that comment raised a ruckus and there were public burnings of Beatles records. Now Lennon is practically a saint.

Brennaman left the broadcast booth in the fifth inning of the second game and a different Reds announcer took his place. The next day, Brennanman issued a longer apology in a Cincinnati newspaper, in which he claimed, "I had no idea it (the homophobic slur) was so rooted in hate and violence."

Really, you thought that word was embraced by the gay community and American culture in 2020?

By the time that newspaper hit the street, Brennaman was placed on indefinite suspension by the Reds, their local broadcast partner and Fox Sports.

In the blink of one small word, a successful 33-year career broadcasting Major League Baseball and National Football League games, the highest echelon of his profession, may have ended.

GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) released a statement calling Brennaman's apology "incredibly weak" and demanding action from the Cincinnati Reds, MLB and Fox Sports.

I asked two Houston broadcasting legends, "What happens next for Thom Brennaman?

"Thom Brennaman is a good friend and a great broadcaster, but he broke the cardinal rule of broadcasting. Always assume you are talking on a live microphone. His audio guy left his microphone live when he used the gay slur. Everyone heard it," said Bill Worrell, who's announced Houston sports for nearly a half-century.

"I was shocked he would say that, even in private, but he did, so he is gone. We live in a world now with no second chances. But I think he can get back in, maybe in several years."

Bill Brown, who broadcast Cincinnati baseball games from 1976 to 1982 before being hired to do play-by-play for the Astros, added, "I like Thom Brennaman's broadcasting. I've said things thinking they were not on the air. In those situations, we just have to take responsibility and ask for forgiveness.

"Maybe 20 or 30 years ago a broadcaster could apologize and keep his job. Not these days. I hope he gets another chance, but that would be somewhat surprising in today's world."

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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