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Thom Brennaman Hopes He Gets The Chance To Change Your Mind

s you and I sit here in the final days of March in 2022, I see, very little of that ability to forgive so far. Now do I think it’ll change? I think and I hope and I pray that it will change.”

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It’s been nearly two years since Thom Brennaman uttered a gay slur when he thought he was off-air. The hot mic caught him and it started a series of events that have tested the veteran broadcaster. He apologized, was suspended and eventually lost not only his job with the Reds, but his work with Fox Sports as well.

Brennaman continued to tell anyone that would listen, that this wasn’t like him and not really in his character to say what he did. Now nearly 20 months later he’s faced the music, taken the responsibility and is trying to make amends

I had the chance to catch up with Brennaman for my podcast earlier this week. He was candid and real. I could tell that this was not just lip service being slung by a professional broadcaster looking to get back in the booth any way he could. He owned the mistake then and continues to own it to this day. 

The night of the incident was August 19, 2020 and when he realized the comment went over the air, there were all kinds of emotions going through him. Brennaman was calling game one of a doubleheader, the Reds were in Kansas City, but he was back in Cincinnati, not traveling due to the pandemic. He says he’s not on social media during games, so Brennaman didn’t find out people heard the slur, until game one was over.  

“I get a text message from my boss who said he had the clip of it,” Brennaman told me. “When I saw it, I knew right then and there that this was not good this is really, really bad.”

Thom Brennaman was pulled from the air, in the third inning of game two, but he wouldn’t go without the ability to apologize to those he’d offended. 

“I’ve come to learn how much I really hurt a lot of people in the last 20-22 months or so but I didn’t know what to think. I knew that I was going to face disciplinary action from both the Reds and from Fox doing the NFL work.” he told me. “Maybe I was naive into believing that it might be along the lines of a suspension more than a permanent firing but that’s what both them turn into.”

What he didn’t realize is how many people he’d hurt, including his own family. 

“You know when within hours after I said what I said there was this girl, who is gay, that went to high school with my daughter, and she sent her this text and said, ‘look, you know much we don’t like at all what your dad said, but you’ve always treated us like a million bucks you know we think the world of you,'” he recalled. 

His wife would get asked about it wherever she went in town. His son plays on the high school lacrosse team and people would say things about his dad to him on the field. 

Soon after he was pulled from the air, Thom Brennaman heard from some folks in the LGBTQ+ community. Not just in Cincinnati. He met with former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean, who came out as gay in 1999. Bean now works for the league as a special assistant to Commissioner Rob Manfred. Brennaman really felt for what Bean went through. 

“At a time where you couldn’t tell anybody that you were gay, he had a lot of problems which forced his career to come to an abrupt halt,” said Brennaman.  “I talked to him for quite a while in the ensuing days and he put me in contact with some other people through different channels in the gay community, locally and nationally but the one that made the biggest impact by far was a guy here in Cincinnati whose name is Ryan Messer. He’s gay man, he and his husband have four children.”

Messer is an executive at Johnson and Johnson and is on the Cincinnati Public School Board. According to Brennaman, “He is considered to be the leading voice of the whole LGBT community here in Cincinnati and then within 48 hours after I said what I said he wrote a letter to the editor in the Cincinnati Inquirer saying that I should not be fired.”

The gist of the letter stressed that there was a learning moment for everybody here, for the Reds for the gay community and for Thom Brennaman.  Messer said that for everybody involved he wanted to make a positive out of it. Brennaman immediately reached out to say thank you. 

Brennaman asked Messer “what can I do to get better? Not to get my job back because that was already done, the people didn’t know about it maybe in the public that it was done but it was done,” said Brennaman.  “He invited me over his house. It was my birthday I’ll never forget as long as I live. About a month after I said what I said, on September 12, a really hot day here in Cincinnati really hot, he invited maybe 14 or 15 other gay voices.”

The meeting featured leaders from greater Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus and Indianapolis. Men and women alike all came to Messer’s house. 

Brennaman recalled the set up, “I’m sitting on the front porch and I was the only one sitting in the sun and it was a thousand degrees that day in the middle of day. Of the 15 there, 12 were open minded into me being there. Giving me a chance to listen.”

Thom Brennaman wanted to grow a little bit and he realized three of the guests were not sure he was really there for the right reason.

“They looked at me and they called me a fraud and told me I was just checking boxes for being there,” he said. “They were just saying things like, I think you know this is a joke, you don’t care at all about the gay community you’re just trying to check a box and get your job back.”

One of the guys in that camp was Cincinnati City Councilman Reggie Harris.

“This guy, he just let me have it unlike anybody else in my life,” Brennaman said. “Look he’s allowed to have his opinion. That’s fine, no problem. I get it, but when I see or hear people make the comment about anybody, not just me, I’m talking about anybody across-the-board where they say you know what? There is just no forgiveness there whatsoever.”

Brennaman said he felt badly for Harris because everyone has been forgiven for many things each and every day. 

“It was a rough day. I mean it. I was there for about, I don’t know 2 1/2 or three hours. I came back home and my wife was going to throw a surprise party for me that night at our house. We still had some friends over, some couples over but it was…it was a very moving experience that day.”

Brennaman felt like he was better for that experience on Messer’s porch. 

There was one story in particular that really moved Brennaman. He was talking to a young gay man that lived in Seattle. The story is difficult to hear, but he explained the significance of it. The young man was going to a party in drag. 

“But he said you could clearly tell it was a man and he’s going to this party and it’s in downtown Seattle and there’s a crosswalk on one of the city streets,” Brennaman begins. “A pick-up truck pulls up and kind of waves him through to ‘go ahead’ across the crosswalk. As soon as he goes across the guy revs his engine and runs him over. While the kid was on the ground with multiple broken bones all over his body. All of his teeth were knocked out and he’s lying there with blood pouring out of his mouth, the guy gets out of the truck and walks over to him, calls him the word that I said and spits on the young man and drives around him and leaves.

“When you hear it put that way, if it doesn’t change the way you feel about saying that word, then somethings definitely wrong with you.” he told me. “I’ve come to learn about how hurtful that word is.”

Thom Brennaman definitely misses his time in the booth. Recently he started working with a streaming service in Cincinnati to broadcast high school football and basketball games in the city. 

“I was doing all teams in greater Cincinnati and high school football like a lot other places but here it’s just insane how many pro players come out of here, and great college players. So I would go to you know, if I was doing a Mason against Anderson, two high schools here in town, I go to Mason’s practice on a Wednesday and meet with their coach.”

After many years of sitting down with NFL players like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers and coaches like Bill Belichick before a game, this was a bit different, but not in a bad way.  

“I’d be sitting in a room. It was almost like an out of body thing, sitting in a room with Mason’s staff, they’d have seven coaches. I could just feel all these guys staring at me going, this is the same dude who sat in the same room with fill in the blank in the NFL and now he’s in here talking to us,” he joked. “I got the biggest kick (out of it), we’d laugh and I’d make a joke about it and then the next thing you know we’re talking about football. I guess the routine of it was great, just to get back and do it again.”

Brennaman holds out hope that one day, a team or a network will come calling, but that day isn’t today or in this moment. 

“As you and I sit here in the final days of March in 2022, I see, very little of that ability to forgive so far. Now do I think it’ll change? I think and I hope and I pray that it will change,” he said. “Do I see any hint of that right now? From a network television level to a major league baseball broadcast level, local level, whether it be radio television or whatever it might be, I don’t see it so far.”

As we closed out our conversation, I asked Thom Brennaman if he had any messages, he wanted to get out there, to those in his corner and to those that aren’t. He told me that he hopes they would think about people in their personal lives that have made a mistake or let them down in someway and remember how they were able to hold that person accountable, but still let them move forward.

“I don’t want the rest of my life or career to be defined by a lot of people as being a homophobe. That’s what I’ve tried to explain to my kids,” Brennaman said. “There are going to be people and I’ve had a hard time coming to grips with this, because I know I am not a homophobe. I know I’m not. But I used a word that can put me in that category and some people are never going to let me out of that category. I can’t spend the rest of my life worrying about those people. I wish they didn’t feel that way, and I know I’m not a homophobe, but you got to move on and keep doing the best you can, that’s all you can do.”

You can hear the full conversation with Thom Brennaman on The Andy Masur Podcast, wherever you listen to podcasts. 

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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BSM Podcast

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

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Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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