David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
This is a symptom of larger problems. Fox Sports Ohio’s Thom Brennaman was caught on a hot mic using a vile homophobic slur following during pregame of a Reds game against the Royals on Wednesday night. It led to an on-air apology, and Brennaman being pulled from the broadcast — but this all fails to address the real issue at play.
Here’s what Brennaman said, which suffice it to say is horrible and insensitive. It’s also important that we don’t ignore the video itself, because it’s critical here.
Here’s a better video with the full bit of the perceived tHom homophobic comment at around the 2:06 mark of the game. pic.twitter.com/g1yBHg8zA0— Church of Baseball ⚾ (@churchofbasebal) August 19, 2020
Obviously Brennaman didn’t know the mic was hot. He never would have intentionally said what he did on the air unless. That’s still not good enough. Later, when it came time to apologize the broadcaster interrupted his own apology to call a home run. It’s clear where his priorities were at the moment — and it wasn’t on trying to make amends with the people he marginalized in his comments.
Instead of directly addressing his comments, Brennaman’s mea culpa was more concerned with telling people at home that he wasn’t a homophobic person, and trying to make good with his employers. The priority, once again, wasn’t on apologizing to the LGBTQ+ community. In the span of his 1:17 apology, a scant few seconds were spent addressing those hurt by the remarks. His words, couched in lazy, predictable language, apologized to “anyone who was offended,” as if there’s a group of people in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond who don’t consider the word he used to be the most hurtful and hate-filled slur available.
From the hot mic audio it doesn’t sound like Brennaman is joking, or making an off-handed comment. Not that saying “it was a joke,” makes it better — but perhaps a little more understandable. People make jokes around their coworkers to try to impress them, they get caught up in the moment. All of us have likely said things we meant in jest we would never say seriously, perhaps even things we later regret. However, Brennaman’s comment had emphasis. It had weight. It was said with the tone and gravity of someone who knew exactly what he was saying, he just didn’t expect to be caught.
This isn’t about trying to “cancel” Thom Brennaman. It’s about trying to cancel the kind of workplace culture that allows these sentiments to foster without fear of reprisal. Had Brennaman’s comments never aired it’s entirely likely nothing would have ever happened. Perhaps a coworker files an HR complaint, it’s handled internally, and after a cursory tap on the wrist as he returns to work.
Sure, this is speculation about the internal workings of Fox Sports Ohio, but considering that Brennaman’s replacement on the broadcast Chris Welsh later said on the air “You’re a good man, partner. Hang in there,” as if Brennaman was the one marginalized by his own homophobia, suggests rampant issues inside their workplace culture.
Welsh would go on to casually make a remark later that Ozzie Albies of the Braves might not understand the difference between $35M and $85M because he wasn’t born in the United States.
“He came from a very poor background. He’s from Curaçao. And if somebody offered you $35M, I mean, he might not know the difference between $35M and $85M.”
Pointed homophobia. Casual racism. All in one broadcast. Really batting 1.000 there, Fox Sports Ohio.
Brennaman had a predictable response to being caught making offensive remarks, he hid behind his faith. “I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith,” Brennaman said, as if attending church on a Sunday meant he couldn’t have hate in his heart on a Wednesday. Invoking faith has become a way to hand-wave away offensive comments, a refrain used to try and say to people “I can’t really hate people, because I’m religious!” To which over 2,000 years of human history would likely take umbrage.
The point is this: If Brennaman is making comments like this with a microphone in front of his face, hot or not, what has he said when there’s no risk of being on the air? This kind of mistake doesn’t happen in isolation. It’s bred, and incubated by a workplace culture where being casually offensive is acceptable. To be comfortable enough to say things like this in the booth indicates a profound feeling of safety that saying things like this is okay.
For now, Brennaman’s future is unclear. He said “I don’t know if I’ll be putting on this headset again,” he said in closing his apology. While that decision may not be in Brennaman’s hands his next step is: Just be better. If you are a man of faith like you profess then apologize, sincerely, and from the heart. Not in public, interrupted by a home run, but by educating yourself and seek forgiveness. Learn why the slur used is so hurtful. Understand the history and hatred behind it. It might not result in Brennaman broadcasting an MLB game again, but perhaps it will lead to him better understanding why even off-hand remarks can cause so much pain.
That will be far more important than getting back in the booth in the end.