It’s kind of scary when you think about it. In this ever-colliding world of social media and political correctness, we’re all just one mis-uttered word away from crashing and burning. Just ask Thom Brennaman.
By now, everyone has heard the replay of the Cincinnati Reds broadcaster using a homophobic slur during his call of the Reds versus Kansas City Royals game last week. The fact that Brennaman didn’t know the mic was hot doesn’t really matter. Nor does the fact that he issued an apology shortly thereafter. The damage was done. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. As far as his career with the Reds is concerned, most people I’ve talked to think he’s toast.
But should society be so quick to judge? What about forgiveness? In my new gig working with people in the broadcasting profession, I’ve learned that everyone brandishing that microphone is nowadays acutely aware of slipping up and saying something stupid, vulgar, or offensive—spewing out an on-air comment so galling that it costs them their career.
I’m not here to defend Thom, but there is a culture among media people that’s similar to a locker room. I’ve felt it personally in the press box. Everyone, including myself, wants to belong—to be accepted as one of the boys. As you know, for an announcing team to “click,” there has to be a natural camaraderie between the participants in the broadcast booth. It’s why we all tune in to Tom Leach and Jeff Piecoro calling the Kentucky games. They’ve developed that in-studio comfort level that Dick Gabriel of Big Blue Insider explained to me the other night on his show. It’s the same comfort level banter between Michael Bennett and Shannon the Dude that makes our Just the Cats hour so entertaining.
“What comes on in broadcast booths during commercial breaks is at times like a locker room,” confirmed Alan Cutler, my soon-to-be published co-author, and the former long-time host of the Cincinnati Bengals Radio Network. “Sometimes it’s very funny. And sometimes there are things said that shouldn’t be said. I’ve never heard anything like what Thom said, but I’ve heard plenty of things that NEVER could be broadcast.”
Regardless, Thom should have known better. His actions were wrong and what he said was not funny and deeply offensive. He probably got a bit too comfortable in his exalted status as Reds radio kingpin and thought he was above the law. He suddenly forgot that it’s now 2020 and not 1984. Times have changed, and multiple segments of American society remain ready to pounce at the slightest provocation. As Governor Andy has scolded us all ad nauseum during the pandemic, “You cant’ be doing that.”
So what do we make of all of this? Thom says that he’s a man of faith. So am I, and so are many of you who are reading this. Should we forgive him? The Bible tells us “forgive, and you will be forgiven.” But more importantly, it also challenges us to do better. “Let us not love with words or speech but with action and in truth,” said the Apostle John. Action and truth is the only way we can bring proper healing to this divisive mess of a country we’re in.
In his on-air apology, Thom claims that’s not who he is. Well, then show us—not with mere empty spoken words, but with sincere heartfelt action. Because we don’t really know what’s in his heart, Thom needs to do something radically productive to make a difference. He can apologize all he wants to his bosses and his fans, but he has to first reach out and embrace the LGBTQ community in some unprecedented way. He has to act in a manner which earns their forgiveness and demonstrates his repentance before a righteous God. After all, if you don’t show love to others, then you’re not a true Christ follower.
Thom has a ton of equity in the professional bank. He’s worked as a successful broadcaster for Fox Sports for nearly two decades. He has a strong family pedigree and a personal reputation to match. If he can now just humble himself to act in a fashion that earns him kudos directly from the community he has disparaged, it’ll be a heck of a lot easier for everyone else watching on the sidelines to forgive him also. If sincere, it’ll also go a long way toward personal redemption and restoring his professional life.
It’s his move. I’m hopeful he can do it. We should all be cheering him on.
Thanks to Pastor Randy Maynard for always keeping me accountable walking my talk, and for reminding me constantly of the powerful reach of a sports related platform. If you enjoy my writing, you can read more at JustTheCats.com, NolanGroupMedia.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.