When we say "That's not who I am," we're usually wrong.

Sports announcer Thom Brennaman’s recent homophobic slur has gotten him suspended from several broadcasting roles. He will no longer be the play-by-play man for the Cincinnati Reds or an announcer of NFL games on Fox.

Brennaman has apologized profusely—first to the fans, then to his employers, and finally to the LGBTQ+ community. We can contest the order of the apologies, but he sounds sincere. He also sounds shaken. In a thoughtless moment his life disappeared—it’s difficult not to feel some compassion for a person who appears to have been a man of good character


Because I’m not part of the community he insulted, it’s not for me to judge whether his apology should be accepted or what his punishment should be. But not being part of a "community," be it Latino, Muslim, Native American, trans, et al., does not mean we cannot be offended by a slur or an offensive comment, nor does it abridge our right to make a judgment or form an opinion.


Of course my forgiveness or intransigence counts for nothing, but if the world at large is willing to grant Mr. Brennaman a second chance (many of us require that second one, and the third, sometimes the fourth, or more) then he must accept one misconception he has of himself. In one of his spoken statements he said “That is not who I am...it never has been.”


That’s not true. The fact that he verbalized an insensitive and homophobic statement when he thought the microphone was off—and did so comfortably in the presence of others—prove to me that he is exactly who he is.


I don’t care if he retracts the slur: I want him to retract that apology. Unless he does that—admits that a vein of homophobia runs through him, how can he hope to overcome it? To make believe that some Doppelgänger inhabited his being for a few seconds and then vanished is to treat us like idiots and to delude himself. I'd be willing to bet that he harbors no ill will against the LGBTQ+ community, and may at times have spoken out in its defense. Everything about his history labels him a decent human being, but still the person who uttered the slur we heard from Thom Brennaman was, well, Thom Brennaman.


We know what he did and we know why. But it’s more important that he knows it.


Imagine if he had said, “You know folks, I’ve said things like that before and there may very well be a part of me that has always maligned, maybe mistrusted gay people; but I promise you, I'm going to work like hell to change that.” That admission not of a mistake but if an actual flaw would have gone a long way toward convincing people of his sincerity. Granted, that admission would also have been criticized as illiberal and out of date, but the willingness to seek personal betterment would have been refreshing. Without that commitment, saying "it's not me" or assuring oneself "I'm really not a bad person" after doing something indisputably bad, serves no purpose.


Imagine your feelings toward a president who, instead of uttering the only cliché he knows—one death is too many—stood in front of the American people and said, "I'm sorry I screwed up on this pandemic, but I'm committed to doing things differently from here on in." Donald Trump would never say that, but that's what we look for: not only regret but an attempt to be better.


And so what becomes of Thom Brennaman? Permanent suspension is the easy way out, the zero tolerance approach, but cancel culture and online shaming serve only to underscore the sanctimony of the accusers. Besides, when you punish somebody who knows what he did wrong but not why he did it, nobody gains anything except the hollow satisfaction of revenge. I’d like to see Mr. Brennaman back on the air, not immediately but in a week or so when we've had a chance to digest our own attitudes. He would always carry the baggage of his former insensitivity, but he might also be a proselytizer for acceptance and understanding. He'd always have something to prove.


Epiphanies can arrive at different times to the most disparate people. I often think of the Simpsons classic “Homer’s Phobia” episode from 1997 where John Waters portrays a gay men who befriends the Simpsons-minus-one: the homophobic Homer. Near the end when a bizarre rescue changes Homer's attitude, the Waters character says “Well, Homer, I won your respect, and all I had to do was save your life.”


Mere apologies won't save Thom Brennaman, nor will John Waters, and a permanent punishment won't save us. A commitment to reflection and change, however, could save us all.


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