Houston broadcast icons sound off on grave media misstep
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."