All of a Sudden, He’s Gone
You could see it coming. Still, it was shocking.
In a tweet now deleted, Jeff Passan reported: “Longtime Cincinnati Reds announcer Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic saying “one of the fag capitals of the world.” He is currently announcing the second game of the Reds’ doubleheader against Kansas City.”
Then there was this:
the brennaman situation has an extremely justine sacco feel to it
— Cronk is good. (@cdgoldstein) August 20, 2020
Eh. I’m having a hard time agreeing with Mr. Goldstein. If you don’t know the Justine Sacco story, you can read it here.
Justine Sacco wasn’t a famous person. Nor was she a bigot or racist. She was doing the Twitter thing while passing time on a long flight, mocking a racist narrative, taking a shot at her own white privilege. But, there’s no font for irony or sarcasm. To be sure, her tweet was naïve. Dumb. Maybe even stupid if you feel the need to be that harsh. Her punishment was swift, and not just on social media. Ms. Sacco had a very fine job, which she quickly lost. Her life was turned upside down by the social media tsunami that swept her away before she ever had a chance to defend herself, which, if you know Twitter, is aptly summarized by the title of a 1970s Broadway play, “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God.”
In contrast, Thom Brennaman sat behind a microphone and took bigoted aim at a community of people, safe in the belief his poison was private, his point-of-view perfectly acceptable, unaware his mic was reds hot.
The Twitter backlash won’t be what determines his fate. Commercial advertisers will. It won’t be a decision made because Mr. Brennaman said a reprehensible thing. It will be made from a cool, calculating bottom line. It will, as always, be about the dollar bills.
Beyond that, the not-so-immediate on-air non-apology was of the usual “if I offended anyone” variety. If it appeared bizarre that Thom interrupted his mealy-mouthed mea culpa to continue his play-by-play duties to call a Nick Castellanos home run, it shouldn’t have. Mr. Brennaman was only demonstrating to the viewing audience that his commitment to being a professional baseball announcer superseded an apology that in the moment was more about damage control than contrition. As a result, his words hung shabbily about him, like a heavy, ill-fitting suit.
Meanwhile, players rose to the occasion:
LGBTQ+ community, as a member of the Reds organization, I am so sorry for the way you were marginalized tonight. There will always be a place for you in the baseball community and we are so happy to have you here.
— Matt Bowman (@bowmandernchief) August 20, 2020
To the LGBTQ community just know I am with you, and whoever is against you, is against me. I’m sorry for what was said today.
— CountOnAG (@Amir_Garrett) August 20, 2020
Paul Daugherty had this to say:
“I know Marty very well, Thom much less so. I know the tenor of our times can be harsh on people who don’t pay attention. I also know that words matter. Words create perceptions. Too often, perception is reality. You can’t say what Thom said and not pay a steep price.”
In this instance, his words were not perception. They were reality. The cold reality of the video and audio tells us this is what Thom Brennaman believes. He wasn’t taken out of context. And his apology was little more than begging for his job, elevated to the height of absurdity by the banality of the play-by-play interspersed with his plaintive plea for absolution, punctuated by a naked call for his friends to stand up for him.
Justine Sacco had to fight her way through the thicket of public opinion, while coming to terms with her own mistakes:
“All of a sudden you don’t know what you’re supposed to do,” she said. “If I don’t start making steps to reclaim my identity and remind myself of who I am on a daily basis, then I might lose myself.”
All of a sudden. That’s the way it happens when we fail to pay attention, when we forget our place in world, when we elevate ourselves at the expense of others. We probably don’t have to worry about Thom Brennaman losing himself. He will have a coterie of professional people who will circle the wagons, friends in high places who will happily provide cover. Cincinnati’s finest country clubs will bat nary an eye. It’s going to be a huge trap for him, for him not to sweep this away with pats on the back and reassurances that “hey, everybody makes mistakes.”
The longtime Fox broadcaster has followed his initial apology with a more formal one on the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer:
“Regardless of what my future holds in broadcasting, my actions have forced me to reflect on who I am and how I want to be seen and thought of. I realize it is more important than ever for us to treat each other with dignity and respect. I need to be a better and I must set a better example.”
I certainly hope Thom Brennaman doesn’t lose himself. Rather, I hope he finds his better self. Remakes himself into a man who doesn’t think first to apologize to the people who sign his checks while giving a shallow lip-service to the LGBTQ community he so callously dismissed.
And once again, I am reminded how sometimes, the underbelly of sports just makes you want to take a shower.