Thom Brennaman steps down from Reds' broadcast booth
Brennaman and the Reds continue to miss the mark after the long-time broadcaster used a homophobic slur on-air last month.
Sadly, the Thom Brennaman saga has a third chapter. I’ve written about it twice before here and here. A quick recap: A hot mic caught the Reds’ now former broadcaster Brennaman using a homophobic slur, thinking he was not yet on air. He later “apologized” and left the booth mid-broadcast. In the time since, Brennaman has mostly laid low, but has reportedly spoken with Evan Millward, an openly gay newscaster in Cincinnati as well as a Cincinnati-based LGBTQ activist.
On Friday, Brennaman announced via Millward that he is stepping away from the Reds’ broadcast booth permanently. The statement read:
My family and I have decided that I am going to step away from my role as the television voice of the Cincinnati Reds. I would like to thank the Reds, Reds fans and the LGBTQ Community for the incredible support and grace they have shown my family and me.
To this great city, my hometown, a sincere thank you. I truly regret what I said and I’m so very sorry. No one loves this town more than me.
I have been in this profession that I love for 33 years. And it is my hope and intention to return. And if I’m given that opportunity, I will be a better broadcaster and a much better person.
I am grateful for the forgiveness so many have extended to me, especially those in the LGBTQ community who I have met, spoken with and listened to almost daily over the last five weeks. With their continued guidance, I hope to be a voice for positive change.
The Reds also issued a statement on the heels of Brennaman’s, via CEO Bob Castellini:
The Reds respect Thom Brennaman’s decision to step away from the broadcast booth and applaud his heartfelt efforts of reconciliation with the LGBTQ+ community. The Brennaman family has been an intrinsic part of the Reds history for nearly fifty years. We sincerely thank Thom for bringing the excitement of Reds baseball to millions of fans during his years in the booth. And, we appreciate the warm welcome Thom showed our fans at Redsfest and on the Reds Caravan. He is a fantastic talent and a good man who remains part of the Reds family forever. We wish him well.
Celebs who fuck up and the employers who have to deal with the aftermath: hire me to write your apologies and public statements. I will make sure they’re genuine and heartfelt, and center the aggrieved. Both Brennaman’s and the Reds’ statements missed the mark.
Let’s start with Brennaman’s statement. He cites “support and grace” as well as “forgiveness” from the LGBTQ community, as if it is a monolith. Not everyone bought Brennman’s meager apology the night of the incident, and not everyone is ready for his redemption arc yet. The fact that Brennaman thinks he can cite the LGBTQ community like this shows he has a long way to go.
Furthermore, citing “forgiveness” from [some members of] the LGBTQ community is a manipulation tactic. It A) fools readers into thinking he has taken substantive action such that the LGBTQ community forgave him, and B) pressures those in the LGBTQ community who haven’t forgiven him to either forgive him as well or shut up about the issue.
To this day, Brennaman has not directly apologized to the LGBTQ community. On air last month, Brennaman apologized “to the people who sign my paycheck for the Reds, for FOX Sports Ohio, for the people I work with,” and also apologized to “anybody I’ve offended tonight.”
In an op-ed apology posted in the Cincinnati Enquirer two weeks ago, Brennaman said, “In the past 24 hours, I have read about [the slur’s] history; I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence…” Brennaman, a man paid handsomely for his mastery of the English language and who wantonly used a slur when he thought his mic was off, wants us to believe he had no idea about the impact of the word he used and the history behind it. Not only did he neglect to directly apologize to the community he hurt, he also outright lied on at least one occasion.
Brennaman closes out his statement saying, “I hope to be a voice for positive change.” This is so vague as to be meaningless. He has supposedly been speaking with members of the LGBTQ community since the incident, so she should have a more concrete plan of action. Is he going to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ Republicans? Is he going to continue to cultivate relationships with LGBTQ people and the local community long after this issue has faded away? Just as importantly, why should the LGBTQ community give Brennaman the privilege of being “a voice for positive change” when almost none of his behavior since the incident has provided any reason to trust him?
Castellini’s statement is a clinic on missing the point. If you didn’t know the context going in, you’d have thought Brennaman was stepping down with honor rather than disgrace. Castellini makes no mention of Brennaman’s offense, only “heartfelt efforts of reconciliation with the LGBTQ+ community.” He then spends the rest of the statement blowing smoke up Brennaman’s ass. Redsfest and the Reds Caravan also have no business being mentioned here as they are completely irrelevant. Read the room, Bob.
As I’ve said before, this isn’t about “cancelling” Brennaman or taking away his livelihood. His words hurt a lot of people. His inclusion in the baseball community is a privilege, as is his access to the broadcast booth. They are not rights. If he has not shown a real understanding of the damage he did, he does not get to reinsert himself into the community just because he’s a well-known broadcaster and he wants his job back.
Brennaman could have nipped this all in the bud if he had any empathy at all, if his initial instinct was to address those he hurt rather than “the people who sign my paycheck.” He would not have had to go off the grid for a few weeks, he would not have had to pen a disingenuous op-ed in the Enquirer, and he wouldn’t have had to step down from his job with the Reds.
A good apology would have read: “I carelessly used a homophobic slur during the Reds telecast and in doing so, hurt a lot of the fans who support our great game of baseball, including the Cincinnati Reds. In the time since, I have spent time with members of the local LGBTQ community and taken some time to reflect on just how harmful that word is. There is no excuse for that word to still be a part of my vocabulary, whether or not I am on-air. I sincerely apologize to the LGBTQ community and will make every effort to remove such harmful language from my lexicon. I am also making a donation to local LGBTQ charities and will no longer donate to politicians who support anti-LGBTQ agendas. It is my hope that my efforts will earn your forgiveness.”
In this apology, the offense is clearly acknowledged as is the gravity of the situation. The aggrieved group is directly addressed. Reconciliatory actions are highlighted and eventual forgiveness is suggested, not expected.
Similarly, Castellini’s statement could have gone one of two ways: brief, or heartfelt. A brief statement would have been typical P.R. speak: “The Reds support Brennaman’s decision to step away from the broadcast booth after using hateful language on-air last month.” A more heartfelt message would have addressed the LGBTQ community Brennaman hurt under the Reds banner. Castellini could have added, “The Reds do not in any way, shape, or form tolerate bigotry. We will be making several recurring donations to local LGBTQ organizations. The Reds will also offer our employees more substantive tolerance training and will prioritize inclusivity when hiring across the board so that such incidents never happen again. Additionally, I will no longer be donating to politicians with anti-LGBTQ agendas.”
Some people are tired of hearing about this issue and want us to let go already. I don’t enjoy harping on this any more than you likely enjoy reading about it. It is tiring to be reminded constantly by Major League Baseball and its myriad public-facing representatives that they simply don’t value you as a human being if you’re not like them. Until MLB gets its act together, it is our responsibility to hold the league accountable when it messes up.