On August 19th, 2020, at around 8:32 p.m., inside Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, right fielder Nicholas Castellanos of the Cincinnati Reds is facing an 0-1 count against Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland. Holland sends a pitch inside, and Castellanos blasts a shot to deep left field for his ninth home run of the season, giving the Reds a 4-0 lead. Nobody watching the broadcast on Fox Sports Ohio cared. All they were paying attention to was longtime Reds’ commentator Thom Brennaman.
At the beginning of Fox Sports Ohio’s broadcast of this doubleheader, a hot mic caught Brennaman calling the city of Kansas City “one of the f-- capitals of the world.” Brennaman never noticed the mic was hot, but everyone else listening to the broadcast did. Brennaman blissfully continued the broadcast, commentating the entirety of game one, a 4-0 Royals victory, and made it all the way up until the top of the 5th inning of game two, where the Reds commentator of 14 years was given the shepherd’s cane, yanked from the booth in favor of Fox studio host Jim Day, but not before giving one of the most infamous apologies of all time.
As Castellanos took the plate, taking Holland’s first pitch of the evening for a low strike that could’ve gone either way, Brennaman began his apology, stating, “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'm so very, very sorry.”
As Holland wound up for his second pitch, Brennaman continued, saying, “I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith…” Right as he finished that part, Castellanos sent the 94 mile-per-hour fastball to left field, landing, ironically, in front of a sign that read “Judgment-Free Zone.” Brennaman, with his instincts as a second-generation baseball commentator kicking in, stopped his apology to acknowledge the solo shot. “...as there’s a drive into deep left field by Castellanos and that’ll be a home run. And so that’ll make it a 4-0 ballgame.” Then, without breaking his cadence or tone of voice, jumped right back into his apology.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be putting on this headset again. I don’t know if it’s going to be for the Reds. I don’t know if it’s going to be for my bosses at Fox. I want to apologize to the people who sign my paycheck.” He ended by stating again how “deeply sorry” he was, and “I beg for your forgiveness.”
Nearly 18 months later, Thom Brennaman has yet to put on his headset for a major league team. The only work he has found was as a play-by-play man for the Roberto Clemente League in Puerto Rico. Other than that, Brennaman has found no other announcing work. In that year-and-a-half span, Brennaman has taken it upon himself to educate himself and immerse himself in the LGBTQ+ culture, learning and understanding what it was. According to an article written by SB Nation’s Cyd Zeigler, Brennaman met with many LGBTQ+ representatives in the Cincinnati area, including Ryan Messer, a long-time executive at Johnson and Johnson, who has been fighting for gay rights in Cincinnati for more than 20 years.
According to Zeigler, “Messer invited about a dozen people from across the Cincinnati LGBTQ community to his porch for a conversation with Brennaman, whose job was mostly to listen.”
The immediate assumption from the dozen or so that attended Messer’s porch was that Brennaman was attending to save face, as a way to bring his reputation back into the good graces of the people of Cincinnati and get his job at Fox back. According to Messer, “There was never once that I thought this was about getting his job with the Reds back. Thom had already told me that was a closed door, period. I could tell he was very taken by the conversation. And it wasn’t like he was just nodding his head. There was zero disingenuousness in his interactions.”
Cincinnati has been building up its reputation for gay rights and LGBTQ+ inclusion. The city struck a deal with General Electric (GE) back in 2014 for the company to staff a new U.S. Global Operations Center, which would bring nearly 2,000 jobs to the area. According to former Cincinnati mayor John Cranley in an article posted by NPR, “The city’s emphasis on inclusion and economic development have gone hand-in-hand. One was predicated on the other. In other words, no gay rights, no GE.” In 2017, the online publication The Advocate ranked Cincinnati the 7th most gay-friendly city in the United States. In 2015, The Advocate reported that 3.2% of Cincinnati’s population was LGBTQ.
Since his time on Ryan Messer’s porch, Brennaman has seemed to become more understanding, attending local Cincinnati PFLAG meetings to learn of the hardships and triumphs of its members. He has started a friendship with Rick Wurth, the CEO of the Children’s Home of Northern Kentucky, who has become Brennaman’s mentor on the subject. According to SB Nation, “After Wurth had shared what he had to say, Brennaman wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. So he put Brennaman through the same training used for their entire support staff. It involved conversations over the course of weeks.”
Brennaman has now become engaged with the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, becoming, as Zeigler put it, “a booming voice without a platform.” But, should Brennaman have that platform back? According to every major broadcast studio, he shouldn’t. But, according to people like Wurth and Messer, members of the LGBTQ+ community, he should. Wurth told SB Nation, “With no doubt. I don’t bat an eye for a second. I’ve spent too much time talking to him. This is not just some extended role performance.” Messer also told SB Nation, “Nobody with the Reds asked us in the LGBTQ community. And supposedly we were the ones who were offended.”
As an avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, when I first heard Thom Brennaman’s comments, I didn’t know what to think. I had never heard of him before, and therefore didn’t know of his past, his actions, or if this is what he truly believes. From what I’ve seen and heard, I think we may have been quick to judge Brennaman.
We live in a culture that has adopted the Cancel Culture almost wholeheartedly. Some have been warranted, others not so much. I don’t think a mistake should be enough to completely ruin somebody’s career or life. I think either continued mistakes or true belief in a terrible subject such as anti-LGBTQ+ rights indicate something darker that should lead to the canceling of people. But I, and many in the LGBTQ+ community believe that Brennaman made a mistake, one that shouldn’t define him, one that he has learned from, one that isn’t what he believes. Billy Bean, the openly-gay former outfielder and Vice-President of Major League Baseball said, “While no two situations are exactly the same, I believe in second chances. Every game that he would broadcast would provide him an opportunity to share a part of this experience and the responsibility that comes with being a member of the baseball community.”
I believe that Thom Brennaman is truly, deeply, and passionately sorry for what he said. The Cincinnati LGBTQ+ has forgiven him. And I think Major League Baseball should forgive him too. Will Thom Brennaman get another opportunity to commentate? I have no idea. Should Thom Brennaman get another opportunity? I, along with many, believe he should.
Contact Nate Grubb with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @GrubbNate43.