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Thom Brennaman suspended by Reds and Fox Sports for homophobic slur

Thom Brennaman has been a fixture on national telecasts of baseball and football games for three decades. (John Minchillo/AP)
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Longtime Cincinnati Reds and Fox Sports broadcaster Thom Brennaman was suspended by the team Wednesday for uttering a homophobic slur on the air as he broadcast a game in Kansas City. On Thursday, Fox Sports also announced that Brennaman would not be part of the network’s NFL coverage this season.

“I would like to sincerely apologize for the inappropriate comments I made during last night’s telecast,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post from his media representative Thursday morning. “I made a terrible mistake. To the LGBTQ community, and all people I have hurt or offended, from the bottom of my heart, I am truly sorry. I respectfully ask for your grace and forgiveness.”

Brennaman has been calling NFL games for Fox since the network began televising them in 1994. In past years, he has assumed Fox’s No. 1 NFL play-by-play role when Joe Buck shifts to MLB postseason duties.

“The language used was abhorrent, unacceptable, and not representative of the values of Fox Sports,” the network said in a statement. “As it relates to Brennaman’s Fox NFL role, we are moving forward with our NFL schedule which will not include him.”

During the first game of a Reds-Royals doubleheader, Brennaman appeared to be unaware that Fox Sports Ohio had come out of a commercial break and he was heard on the air saying, “One of the f-- capitals of the world.” Then, after a pause, Brennaman read a promotion for his network’s pregame show, and he went on to call the first four innings of the second game of the doubleheader, while clips of that sequence went viral.

In a statement Wednesday night, the Reds said their organization was “devastated by the horrific, homophobic remark” made by Brennaman. “He was pulled off the air, and effective immediately was suspended from doing Reds broadcasts.”

The team offered its “sincerest apologies to the LGBTQ+ community in Cincinnati, Kansas City, all across this country, and beyond.” The Reds added that they “embrace a zero-tolerance policy for bias or discrimination of any kind, and we are truly sorry to anyone who has been offended.”

During the fifth inning of the second game, Brennaman made his own, extended apology, one that was interrupted briefly by an in-game highlight. The 56-year-old addressed a camera and told viewers: “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. I pride myself and think of myself as a man of faith.”

At that point in his apology, Brennaman took a moment to call a home run that was hit by Reds outfielder Nick Castellanos. After noting a change in score to 4-0, Brennaman resumed the apology, saying, “I don’t know if I’m going to be putting on this headset again.”

Brennaman apologized to the Reds, Fox Sports Ohio, “the people who sign my paycheck” and “anybody that I’ve offended here tonight.”

He then stepped away from the booth, telling viewers that another Fox Sports broadcaster, Jim Day, would take them “the rest of the way home” by finishing the call of the game.

Brennaman has been calling Reds games on TV since 2007 and has been doing play-by-play of MLB games for more than three decades. He has also worked national telecasts of MLB and NFL games on Fox for more than 25 years, and he called the college football national championship games from 2007 to 2009 (per foxsports.com).

Brennaman’s father, Marty, was the Reds’ radio voice from 1974 until his retirement last year, and he told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty that “an open mic is the biggest enemy you have” given the leisurely pace of baseball games.

“As a dad, I hurt for him,” Marty Brennaman said Wednesday night. “What he said is not a reflection of who Thom Brennaman is. I know that’s not him. But I also feel terrible for the people the comment offended."

“You always have to be conscious that the microphone could be open,” Marty Brennaman added. “The worst feeling in the world, if you’re not on the air, is that you say something and you hear it coming back into your headset.”

MLB told the Associated Press on Wednesday that it was aware of Brennaman’s remarks but did not have an immediate comment.

Chris Seelbach, the first openly gay politician elected to the Cincinnati City Council, said on Twitter on Wednesday: “The Brennaman family are Cincinnati sports icons with a powerful voice in our community, which makes it even more disgusting and totally unprofessional to hear such language used. The Reds have been proud supporters of their LGBTQ+ fans, and this language cannot be tolerated. Period.

“Cincinnati is leading the way for LGBTQ+ equality. We are on the right side of history,” Seelbach continued, “and it’s incredibly disappointing to hear Mr. Brennaman use such language of hate when our country is begging for unity.”

In a June essay that detailed his decision to sit out the 2020 season because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Colorado Rockies’ Ian Desmond referred to a culture of homophobia in baseball by noting, “In clubhouses we’ve got racist, sexist, homophobic jokes or flat-out problems.”

Over a two-week span in July 2018, three MLB players — Josh Hader of the Milwaukee Brewers, Sean Newcomb of the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals’ Trea Turner — apologized for homophobic and racist tweets they posted when they were younger.

Marge Schott, a former owner of the Reds who died in 2004, acknowledged in 1992 that she used racial and homophobic slurs and that she owned Nazi memorabilia. In June, University of Cincinnati trustees voted to take her name off the school’s baseball stadium, with university president Neville G. Pinto saying her “record of racism and bigotry stands at stark odds with our University’s core commitment to dignity, equity and inclusion.”

Earlier this month, viewers of an Oakland A’s telecast were outraged after seeing bench coach Ryan Christenson twice make a Nazi salute, the second time while laughing at what he was doing. Christenson subsequently apologized for a “racist and horrible salute that I do not believe in.”

“That is not who I am, and never has been,” Brennaman said in his on-air apology Wednesday. “And I like to think that maybe I could have some people that can back that up. I am very, very sorry, and I beg for your forgiveness.”

Brennaman offered another apology in an op-ed published Thursday by the Cincinnati Enquirer, where he wrote: “I used a word that is both offensive and insulting. In the past 24 hours, I have read about its history; I had no idea it was so rooted in hate and violence and am particularly ashamed that I, someone who makes his living by the use of words, could be so careless and insensitive. It’s a word that should have no place in my vocabulary and I will certainly never utter it again. …

“To the LGBTQ+ community — I am truly and deeply sorry. You should never be denigrated with crude and hateful language. I failed you, and I cannot say enough how sorry I am.”

After Wednesday’s doubleheader was finished but before the Reds issued their statement, Cincinnati pitcher Amir Garrett tweeted: “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.”

The Reds said they would be “addressing our broadcasting team in the coming days."

correction

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Brennaman is a native of Cincinnati.

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