Reds announcer Thom Brennaman seemed more sorry he got caught saying a homophobic slur on air than saying it in the first place. He can do better, as Blue Jays have in the past when dealing with this slur.
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I have two main identities to most of you online. One is that of the beleaguered Blue Jays writer and podcaster who just wants to see good fundamental baseball. The other is that as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a growing group but one that still deals with a few issues in public.
When these two identities become part of the same story, it rarely has done so for happy reasons. This week was no exception.
On Wednesday, Reds TV announcer Thom Brennaman, a man who has 33 years of experience in front of various microphones, was caught using a homophobic slur that will not be repeated here. In that instant, a relatively low-on-the-radar doubleheader between Cincinnati and Kansas City became national news. The slur was dropped so casually, referring to some unknown destination as a “*** capital of the world”, it couldn’t be denied. Still, they pressed on as if it never happened. It was ignored from the seventh inning of the first game to the fifth inning of the second game.
Then to begin the fifth, Brennaman, now fully aware he was in trouble, attempted to apologize. The keyword is attempted.
He started with “That is not who I am and never has been” and “I am a man of faith.” First, indeterminate faith does nothing to quell the heinous word. I have had LGBTQ+ friends get fired because “men and women of faith” banded together to force them out. The hatred is there with some portions of the faith. Second, it clearly Brennaman has been that person at some point because that word does not easily slip out in such a phrase without practice. A man of his longevity in a role where words are everything should know that. Finally, “never” will never be the appropriate word. It is now officially on the record. It is attached to him. But, he moved on.
“I made a comment earlier tonight that I guess went out over the air that I am deeply ashamed of. 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.”
Note “I guess it went out over the air” as if that was the instance that made it inappropriate. Because the audience heard it, that’s why it’s bad. If it was Brennaman talking casually with the crew, slurs are fair game! That also skirts responsibility, because it should not be a performance to be respectful of people.
Also, note the “if” that begins the second sentence. That “if” puts the onus on the listener. If you were hurt. If you were offended. There is no direct ownership of the slur. It’s a blanket word that allows supporters of homophobia to take solace that he’s only apologizing to “snowflakes” that may be up in arms. It continues to deflect.
What that statement ended up reeking of is not repentance, but of survival. Brennaman issued a plea to his bosses, not to the people he slurred. It was clear this apology was lip service. It was made crystal clear when Brennaman abandoned it in the middle of it to call a home run hit by the Reds. His job was more important than making amends. Brennaman then correctly wondered if he would put on that headset ever again, and he was replaced by Jim Day.
His written apology appeared Thursday as a letter to the editor at The Cincinnati Enquirer. In it, it appears that he knows he is in the real deep muck with this, and he starts by saying that it is a word that no one should say, think, feel, or hear.
But he did. He thought it so clearly, felt it was safe to say it because no one of consequence would hear.
He then continued, saying he had no idea “the word was rooted in hatred and violence.”
This is an unacceptable excuse. No matter what side of the fence someone is on, they know that word. They know the power that word has. They know the fear and the mental anguish it can cause. Whether they avoid it or delight in using it, that word has extreme connotations. Brennaman knew what it meant. Why else would he use it to describe a place in a derogatory tone?
He did finally issue an apology to the LGBTQ community in the final paragraph, acknowledging who was hurt with the use of that word. Brennaman is entirely correct. He failed the people who hear that slur every day. Now he has to show it.
Brennaman’s slur brings up two distinct lessons from the Blue Jays’ past, both involving homophobic slurs on the field. The one that is most applicable to what likely happened in his mind is the first one.
On Sept. 17, 2012, shortstop Yunel Escobar wrote a homophobic slur in Spanish on his eye black and wore it while playing against his old team, Atlanta. The word was a joke to him. It was tossed about at the same level as bro or dude among Hispanic players. Ozzie Guillen confirmed that level of comfort with the word. But Escobar learned it was no joke when he came off the field. He answered in a confused manner for 25 minutes post-game. The next day, he still appeared lost. He even trotted out the “I have gay friends” excuse that has become cover for many to maintain their use of the word and try to hide true feelings of malice. But as Omar Vizquel and Edwin Encarnacion backed him up, saying it was part of the culture, it was clear what was at fault here.
Casey Janssen told John Lott at the time that both English and Spanish versions of the slur were “used loosely around the clubhouse”. This would likely be a more believable excuse for Brennaman had he not gone so far in the extreme in his apology. There are reasons that there are no out gay players in professional sports, that there are few coaches and front office members who freely acknowledge their sexuality. Even in the media, as people like myself and Scott MacArthur have noted in our coming out stories, that fear of suddenly being a target in the clubhouse or in the media room can make the safety of the closet feel more vital than ever. While 2012 was at the tail end of homophobic behavior being a joke, as the sitcoms of the era can confirm, it still should have been the beginning of a culture change. Brennaman’s slur shows that there is still a long ways to go before that change is seen. Escobar didn’t see it in Toronto, because he was traded that off-season.
But the other Blue Jays incident when it comes to this word offers hope. It’s a precedent I hope Brennaman takes note of in this time. That would be the May 17, 2017 game, also against Atlanta. I don’t know what about that team brings out the language. Kevin Pillar said he didn’t know what brought it out. But when reliever Jason Motte quick-pitched him to get a strikeout, Pillar unleashed a word that I heard uttered with that level of frustration so many times on Xbox Live.
At that time, seeing what Pillar said hurt much deeper than Escobar’s eye black or those angry 13-year-olds’ faceless jabs. By that point, it was clear that the disparagement was directed at me. It was the reason I had to keep hiding, now plain on the surface. I was hurt and I was disturbed that someone I hoped to talk to at some point could feel that way.
However, what Pillar did afterwards was very important. Not only did he offer the written apology that Brennaman did, he took action. Pillar said he wanted to be held accountable, and he put in the same level of effort to be accountable that he did when trying to reach the majors. He spoke directly to Billy Bean, the openly-gay MLB Vice President and Special Assistant to the Commissioner. Pillar showed immediate remorse in private, not for public approval. He met with members of the community and their parents to learn what being an ally meant. He caught the first pitch from the treasurer of Pride Toronto to start Pride month. Kevin Pillar made a commitment to being better. That’s why when I finally did get my chance to talk to him, I did so knowing that I could bring up his recent trip to Japan instead of that ugly word. That’s why I believe Pillar when he says that isn’t what he wants to be about.
Brennaman needs to prove just that. He should not have his job back. The 56-year-old is currently suspended indefinitely, and given that Escobar and Pillar’s slurs were not broadcast on audio airwaves, he needs a more severe punishment than a couple games off. He has already been removed from FOX’s football coverage, and it’s safe to say he should not be calling Reds games for a long, long time.
He needs to be concerned with not rehabbing his image, but doing what he needs to do to be better. It will take more than testimonials from xenophobic and homophobic ex-pitchers to prove Brennaman is more than an uttered slur. He needs to put in the same amount of effort to educate himself not just on why the word is bad, but how it hits those people it is aimed at. It is going to be much harder for Brennaman to do this, given his utterance came not in the heat of the moment, but in flippant conversation, but I like to believe that most people are capable of finding some level of redemption.
Brennaman is never going to prove that’s never been who he is. It is a permanent mark on his career now, just as it is for the two Blue Jays mentioned. He has the opportunity to make it a footnote as opposed to a leading statement on what he has done. However, it’s going to be a longer drive than what Nick Castellanos hit to deep left field. The man he is will be revealed by how he responds to what he did. Let’s hope he has the ability to stick to the correct course.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.